But suddenly, Bessler, 24, found she had competition for the attention of the prospective supporters.
Furious quacking erupted in another room. The hostess, Jana Erickson, who will be one of Klobuchar’s precinct captains in Monday night’s Iowa caucuses, explained that, yes, those were ducks we heard. Erickson had had to bring them inside to protect them from a weasel that had attacked them a few days earlier.
Unfazed, Bessler carried on. Having attended countless Klobuchar campaign events as she was growing up, Bessler can pretty much give her mother’s presidential campaign stump speech by heart and parries with aplomb questions about Klobuchar’s stances on issues from global warming to criminal justice to prescription drug prices.
She also knows to diplomatically sidestep such loaded questions as whether what Minnesotans call “hotdish” is more properly referred to as a casserole.
All of that came in handy last week, when the Minnesota senator got stuck temporarily in Washington for President Trump’s impeachment trial. The call of this constitutional duty could hardly have come at a worse time for Klobuchar, who is running an uphill campaign for the Democratic nomination and needs to do well in Iowa.
Bessler, whose father, John, is a lawyer and law professor, had never campaigned on her own before. Suddenly, she found herself Klobuchar’s chief campaign surrogate. She took an extra week off from her job working for a New York City councilman. “I was happy to do it,” she said.
Bessler wasn’t the only surrogate pressed into action in what turned out to be a surreal final week before the caucuses, with four candidates stuck in their chairs in the Senate weighing whether to remove the president they hope to beat in December. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) deployed filmmaker Michael Moore and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.), the supernova of the liberal left. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s husband, Bruce Mann, brought along their golden retriever, Bailey, who has developed his own fan base.
But it was particularly apt that Bessler should find herself in this role.
Klobuchar’s only child is the origin story of her mother’s political career. Bessler was born with a serious health problem — an inability to swallow that required surgery to insert a feeding tube. Klobuchar’s insurance policy required the panic-stricken new mother to leave the hospital 24 hours after giving birth. As my colleague Marc Fisher recounted:
On that first day of Abigail’s life, Klobuchar’s friends and relatives called to find out when they could visit her in the hospital. You can’t, she had to tell them.Klobuchar, who made her living representing big telecom companies, was told to sign forms saying she and John had watched the required videos on infant care, even though there’d been no time to see them.“We lied and signed the forms,” Klobuchar said.She rolled out of the maternity ward still wearing her hospital gown, heading to a $50-a-night hotel, where she would get precious little sleep. The hospital needed her to return every three hours to pump breast milk for struggling Abigail, who was being fed through a tube in her stomach.Klobuchar stayed in the gown for three days, hurrying back and forth to the hospital all night long. Her baby would stay in the hospital for a week and then face a precarious and scary first year.“Literally for the first six months, they thought she had cerebral palsy,” Klobuchar said. “They just didn’t know what was wrong. She had a nose tube for the first three months. That’s how we fed her, through a tube.”
Klobuchar’s outrage over that experience fueled her first political act, organizing support for a Minnesota law that requires insurance companies to allow new mothers at least 48 hours in the hospital after giving birth.
Abigail bears more than a slight resemblance to her mother and was interested in politics and policy from a young age. One of her earliest memories is being dragged at parades in a wagon and imploring bystanders to vote for her mommy. She could explain the Medicare Part D “doughnut hole” before she was 10 and, as a middle-schooler, spent a family vacation lobbying Minnesota’s then-junior senator to support Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton in the 2008 Democratic presidential primary. (Klobuchar did.)
Bessler also inherited her mother’s quick wit and talent with a funny line. When she was a student at Yale University, she tried stand-up comedy and, on her first outing, won a universitywide competition. Part of the prize was performing as an opener for Saturday Night Live’s Aidy Bryant. Bessler’s act included reading entries from the website Urban Dictionary as erotica.
Klobuchar is now back in Iowa. But her daughter’s ease at slipping into the role of campaigner raises an inevitable question: Will we be seeing Bessler run for office some day?
“I have no plans at this moment,” she says with a laugh.
Yep. You can always spot a natural.