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Klobuchar’s assessment of Buttigieg’s position in the race asks voters to ask themselves a tough question

Democratic presidential candidate Amy Klobuchar speaks during the Iowa Democratic Party’s Liberty and Justice Celebration on Nov. 1. (Nati Harnik/AP)

Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s comments about the ascension of Mayor Pete Buttigieg, one of her competitors for the Democratic presidential nomination, are drawing some attention to how men and women seeking the highest office in the land are received differently. And while her comments have been affirmed by others who share her sentiments, Klobuchar’s words risk alienating those whose support she needs to increase her standing in the polls: the voters.

The New York Times reported Saturday that Klobuchar (D-Minn.) said back in June that she doubts that people would have given a woman with the same amount of experience as Buttigieg the amount of attention the South Bend, Ind., mayor has received.

“Could we be running with less experience than we had? I don’t think so,” she said then, according to the Times. “I don’t think people would take us seriously.”

Buttigieg is leading the field in the Iowa caucuses in the latest Monmouth University poll. He has 22 percent of the vote, with former vice president Joe Biden (19 percent), Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren (18 percent) and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders (13 percent) behind him. Klobuchar has 5 percent.

That’s better than Buttigieg is performing nationally. In the most recent Washington Post/ABC poll, he’s at 9 percent. But that’s still better than Klobuchar (2 percent).

On Sunday, the senator expounded upon her earlier comments in a CNN interview.

“The last point I made in that article was that of the women on the stage — I’m focusing here on my fellow women senators — Senator Harris, Senator Warren and myself,” Klobuchar said on CNN. “Do I think that we would be standing on that stage if we had the experience that he had? No, I don’t. Maybe we’re held to a different standard.”

Some people wrongly accused Klobuchar of suggesting that Buttigieg was not experienced enough to be a top-tier presidential candidate — or perhaps to even run for office. The day of Klobuchar’s interview, VoteVets, a liberal nonprofit focusing on veterans issues, used its Twitter account to push back on the idea that Buttigieg doesn’t have experience.

But that is not what the lawmaker said. When host Jake Tapper asked Klobuchar whether she thought Buttigieg was “qualified period,” she answered “yes.”

Other prominent Democratic women backed up Klobuchar’s belief that a woman whose most significant public office experience was being a mayor of a town of 100,000 would never be in the running to be the Democratic Party’s nominee for president of the United States.

Patti Solis Doyle, who worked on Hillary Clinton’s 2008 campaign, said Klobuchar was “absolutely 100 percent right on this one.”

“It’s no secret that sexism plays a role in politics and government. It’s no secret that women have to work twice as hard, be twice as good, to get half the credit,” she said on CNN on Monday. “It’s why we’ve never elected a female president.”

Buttigieg acknowledged that women were at a disadvantage last month when he told CNN that sexism in politics is hurting female candidates.

“Sexism is a real force in politics right now,” he said. “I think it would be naive for me to say that that hasn’t played some role to the disadvantage of female candidates and to the advantage of male candidates” like him.

Klobuchar’s statement actually invokes controversial ideas about electability — the often vague concept about who has the skills, traits and characteristics needed to defeat President Trump in the upcoming election. According to a September Washington Post-ABC News poll, just 7 percent of Democratic and Democratic-leaning independents said that a woman would be more likely to defeat Trump in 2020. Another 23 percent said a man would be more likely to beat Trump, and a 69 percent majority said it didn’t matter.

This argument that people are backing Buttigieg who would not back a woman with a similar résumé is a difficult one for a female candidate to make without harming herself in the process. Some supporters of Buttigieg will hear Klobuchar calling them sexist. Whether it will move those voters to reconsider Klobuchar’s candidacy is another thing. But this might have been a risk worth taking for Klobuchar, a candidate who can’t drop much further in the polls, and perhaps as a result enjoys the freedom that can come with not having much to lose.

What could be more interesting to watch in that framing is whether Warren runs with it at any point. Warren has said she’s experienced some sexism in her presidential race and praised Buttigieg for acknowledging in the past that he is enjoying some advantages because he is a man.

Despite their experience, there are actually reasons that some voters could prefer Buttigieg over the other women — and particularly Klobuchar — that aren’t because of sexism. Interrogating those things could be instrumental in Klobuchar and her opponents discovering why they aren’t doing as well with voters as Buttigieg. But the mayor more or less backing up the lawmaker’s point could also challenge some of his supporters to ask themselves if they would be as supportive of Buttigieg if he didn’t remind them of JFK or Obama, but were a woman instead.