EXETER, N.H. — Throughout the weekend, Klobuchar and her staff could feel her momentum building in New Hampshire.
There was the $1 million in campaign donations that landed Friday night following her much-praised debate performance, then $2 million more over the weekend. There was the crowd of more than 700 that greeted her at Southern New Hampshire University in Manchester on Sunday afternoon, followed by 1,100 people in a middle school gym in Nashua a few hours later. There were the polls showing a surge and the crush of journalists showing up at her events.
At a rally Monday afternoon in Exeter — Klobuchar’s second of four that day — roughly 350 people packed into the town hall and an additional 200 watched a live feed somewhere else in the building. Klobuchar kept marveling at the fact that she had an overflow crowd.
“Hello to the people in the overflow room — sorry,” Klobuchar said at one point, to which they answered with muffled cheers and distant stomping, further delighting the senator. “I love that. … If this is what the election is going to be like, it’s going to be really good.”
The senator was on a roll — comfortable, beaming and loving every minute of the rally. While most other Democratic candidates have been stiffly somber as they campaign throughout the state, Klobuchar exuded excitement.
The crowd before her laughed at all of the jokes she had been telling for months to mixed responses in Iowa. The crowd she couldn't see kept stomping their approval. In the back of the room, a woman kept turning to her husband and whispering: “She's funny."
This moment is one that Klobuchar’s aides had hoped would come in Iowa, Minnesota’s southern neighbor. At nearly every campaign stop, Klobuchar reminded voters that during Friday night’s debate, she was the only candidate to raise her hand when the moderator asked whether anyone was worried about having a democratic socialist for a presidential nominee — a reference to Sanders, who won the New Hampshire primary in 2016.
In the days leading up to this year’s primary, Klobuchar framed the 2020 general election as “a check on patriotism, a check on decency,” and frequently told her crowds about a voter she met in Conway, N.H., who confided that he voted for Trump in 2016 but would not do so again. She promised crowds that many such voters exist — especially in states like Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, which flipped to voting for Trump after long voting for Democratic nominees — and that she can win their votes. She mocked Trump for being a privileged whiner who blames others for everything.
“Imagine me up on the debate stage with him,” she said at one point. “Picture me on that debate stage."
Her final campaign ad released in the state is titled “Empathy,” and Klobuchar told crowds that she has the empathy and the life experience to understand the struggles Americans face as they try to pay for their prescriptions, child care, housing and long-term care for ailing relatives.
She called for expanding the Affordable Care Act and investments in vocational schools and community colleges instead of the free-public-college-for-all plans touted by Sanders and Warren. She talked about her father’s struggles with alcoholism and his financial struggles after three marriages.
“That is a long story that I will only tell the overflow crowd,” she said, to which they responded with muffled stomps.
She wrapped up with a somber plea of her own.
“I know you, and I will fight for you,” she said, her voice heavy with emotion after a 40-minute speech that was mostly lighthearted. “I want you to know this because I need your help right now. We are on the cusp of something really great.”