Where the heck has this Amy Klobuchar been for the last year? I’ve had my eye on her ever since that electric moment when Brett M. Kavanaugh snapped at her during the brutal last phase of his confirmation hearing, asking her if she’d ever blacked out, after she’d asked the same of him. Klobuchar responded, not with the scenery-chewing histrionics her colleagues had resorted to when challenged, but with a gimlet eye and a chilly smile. Kavanaugh later apologized.
There, I thought. There is a lady who could stand up to Trump’s abuse in a debate without blinking or getting rattled.
But in the intervening year, that Amy Klobuchar seemed to vanish; the stand-in she sent out was a moderate too restrained to keep the other Democratic candidates from talking over her on stage. That’s who I saw on the stump in Iowa: A senator whose platform was eminently sensible, and far more likely to actually pass than the radical promises of Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). A woman whose vision was far more practical than the bafflegab former South Bend, Ind., mayor Pete Buttigieg offered about ushering in a vague — but golden! — new era in Washington. But also, in some voters’ eyes, a nice lady who wasn’t going to be president.
All that changed in a single debate last Friday night, when the old Amy, with the courage born of desperation, stormed out on stage and made her case forcefully for pragmatic moderation rather than glittering impracticalities. And darned if it doesn’t seem to have worked, at least on New Hampshire voters, many of whom told exit pollsters that they made up their minds in the final days before the primary. As of this writing, there are still many votes to be counted, but it’s nonetheless clear that Amy Klobuchar has come in third in New Hampshire — and tantalizingly close to Buttigieg and Sanders.
The question is whether she has enough time left to get this done. Klobuchar has been running a shoestring campaign, and though it seems likely she’ll get a boost in polls and fundraising, she now has to build up her organization almost overnight in order to take on the later states. She also needs to knock out Buttigieg and run a gantlet constructed of the Bloomberg billions. All on the strength of an unexpected third-place finish.
To meet that challenge, she has the following weapons: First, she is a woman, and it’s clear that, despite concerns about the power of sexism to drag down female candidates, some portion of the Democratic electorate is ready to vote for a woman, almost any woman. “It’s time,” a woman told me at a Warren rally on Monday, to vigorous nods from the women around her. But I heard the same thing from a man, Isaac Epstein of Dover, whose four-month-old son, Saul, was adorably decked out in Warren gear.
“I’ve been pretty sure since the last election that I’d be voting for a woman this year,” he said cheerfully. It seems reasonable to assume that if Warren drops out, some of his counterparts in other states will migrate to Klobuchar over Sanders.
Second, Klobuchar’s main competition in the moderate lane seems to be consolidating to the precocious former mayor of a very small city, and the septuagenarian former mayor of a very big one, with all the baggage both imply. Klobuchar, at 59, with her national experience, might just turn out to be the Goldilocks candidate for those voters.
And third is the fact that she’s actually very good on the stump, when she lets herself be: funny, warm and sincere. I attended a Klobuchar rally on Monday where I ran into a group of six women, all die-hard Democrats, and most of them still undecided. At the end of the rally, the first one where I really saw the Full Amy, I asked them what they thought now.
“I think she might have done it for me,” said one of them, with a little of Klobuchar’s shine in her own eyes. In that moment I watched her decide. “Yes,” she said, “she did it.”
Now all Amy Klobuchar needs is to do it again, another 65 million times or so.