Pledging to steer the country away from turmoil and confront its challenges head-on if elected, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar launched her bid for the presidency in a spirited and snow-covered Feb. 10 rally at Boom Island Park.
“Today, on this snowy day on this island, we say enough is enough,” Klobuchar said as fluffy snowflakes settled on her head and shoulders. “Our nation must be governed not from chaos but from opportunity, not by wallowing over what’s wrong but by marching inexorably toward what’s right.”
A crowd of hundreds responded with cheers and the muffled sound of gloved hands clapping as the former Hennepin County attorney and first woman elected to the Senate from Minnesota made her official entry into the 2020 race.
“As your president, I will look you in the eye, I will tell you what I think, I will focus on getting things done. That’s what I’ve done my whole life,” she said. “And no matter what, I’ll lead from the heart.”
Klobuchar said she would confront the “insidious forces” pouring dark money into politics and acting to restrict voting rights. She said she would forge a path through the obstacles to American progress, tackling the challenges posed by climate change, rising healthcare costs and data-mining tech companies.
“It is time to organize, time to galvanize, time to take back our democracy. It’s time, America,” she said, standing in front of a Minneapolis skyline obscured by snow.
Her pitch to voters included retraining workers, investing in green jobs and infrastructure, closing tax loopholes that benefit only the wealthy, lowering prescription drug prices and reforming the criminal justice system. She said the United States must “stand strong and consistently with (its) allies” and pledged to respect the country’s front-line troops, diplomats and intelligence officers.
“They deserve better than foreign policy by tweet,” she said, one of several references in the roughly 20-minute speech to President Donald Trump.
Grit and toughness
Deriding the “shutdowns and the showdowns … the gridlock and the grandstanding” of the last two years, Klobuchar joined a crowd of Democratic hopefuls aiming to challenge Trump in 2020. They include Senate colleagues Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Kamala Harris of California, Corey Booker of New Jersey and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, as well as U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii and San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, who served as U.S. secretary of housing and urban development under President Barack Obama.
“I don’t have a political machine. I don’t come from money. But what I do have is this: I have grit,” Klobuchar said.
A parade of local Democratic officials emphasized that grit as they took turns at the podium in the lead-up Klobuchar’s speech. That included a trio of Minnesota mayors: Jacob Frey of Minneapolis, Johnathan Judd of Moorhead and Duluth Mayor Emily Larson, who described the weather conditions — temperatures in the teens under falling snow — as “a perfect Duluth day.”
Frey described Klobuchar as hardworking, honest and optimistic.
“She looks you in the eye and she tells the truth,” he said.
Gov. Tim Walz said Klobuchar would be a tough contender in a presidential campaign, citing her large margins of victory in all three of her Senate campaigns. She won re-election to a third term last fall after taking more than 60 percent of the vote in the general election, defeating Republican Jim Newberger by 24 points.
Walz predicted Klobuchar would have broad appeal, citing his own experience with close elections in the state’s 1st Congressional District, which went for Trump in 2016 after narrowly favoring Obama in 2012. Walz, a DFLer, was replaced by Republican Jim Hagedorn in Congress.
“We’ve got the opportunity to replace chaos with courage,” he said.
U.S. Sen. Tina Smith said the rest of the nation got a glimpse of Klobuchar’s toughness during last year’s confirmation hearings for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
Klobuchar, who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, pressed Kavanaugh on his history with drinking, sparking a contentious exchange for which Kavanaugh later apologized. The committee was examining accusations of sexual assault dating back to Kavanaugh’s high school years, and the nominee was accused of being less than truthful about his use of alcohol in high school and college.
The incident was later the subject of a “Saturday Night Live” parody in which Klobuchar was played by comedian Rachel Dratch.
Klobuchar’s pointed questioning of Kavanaugh caught the attention of Nathan Grumdahl, who rode his bike through the snow to attend the Boom Island Park rally. A registered nurse who works in the Minneapolis school district, Grumdahl said he was a sexual assault survivor and found Klobuchar’s performance during the hearings “really powerful.”
“She’s an amazing force in Minnesota politics and now national politics even more,” he said, describing Klobuchar as thoughtful and persevering.
While still undecided on which candidate he’ll support in 2020, Grumdahl said he had backed Klobuchar in all of her previous campaigns and felt it was time for a woman to serve in the nation’s highest elected office.
Uptown residents Katie Schmieg and Chris Schmieg-Miller, who attended the rally with their dog, Luna, described Klobuchar hardworking and focused on results. While excited to have a Minnesotan in the race, they’re keeping their options open for 2020.
Asked whom else they liked in the Democratic field, Schmieg mentioned Warren and Schmieg-Miller mentioned Democratic Congressman Beto O’Rourke, who drew national attention in an unsuccessful bid to unseat Texas Sen. Ted Cruz last year. O’Rourke has not yet announced a run for president.
They had heard reports that Klobuchar was a tough boss, but suspected accusations she was hard on her staff may have been tainted by sexism.
“What’s Trump’s turnover since he’s been in charge?” Schmieg-Miller asked.
A spate of new stories published just before Klobuchar’s announcement quoted disgruntled former staffers, often anonymously, as well as other employees who expressed their support for their boss. Shortly after leaving the podium, Klobuchar responded to a question about her management style.
“Yes I can be tough, and yes I can push people. I know that,” she said. “But in the end, there are so many great stories of our staff that have been with me for years, who have gone on to do incredible things.
“And I have, I’d say, high expectations for myself. I have high expectations for the people that work for me. But I have high expectations for this country.”
Matt Duggan and Julia Sieling, another pair who traveled from Uptown to Boom Island Park for the rally, were also skeptical of how Klobuchar’s management style had been depicted in the press.
“If it was a man, this conversation wouldn’t be happening,” Duggan said.
Duggan and Sieling, who were undecided about who they plan to support in 2020, said they were looking for candidates to address student debt and healthcare. Duggan said he would like Klobuchar to support the Green New Deal platform being pushed by some progressive Democrats, a mix of proposals to quickly act on climate change while also improving the nation’s infrastructure.
Klobuchar is a co-sponsor of a Green New Deal resolution in the Senate and in her speech at Boom Island Park said she would proposed “sweeping legislation to invest in green jobs and infrastructure” within the first 100 days of being elected president. She also pledged to rejoin international climate agreements aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions and limiting the warming of the planet.
Joe Hesla, a teacher in the St. Paul school district who lives in South Minneapolis, was among a group of activists who showed up to the rally carrying Green New Deal signs. Along with economic justice, he said climate change was one of the top issues going into 2020.
“It’s serious (stuff) we’re dealing with and there’s no time to (fool) around anymore,” he said, using stronger language.
Hesla, who identifies as a socialist, said he sometimes supported Democrats but would probably not back Klobuchar.
“I think she’s too middle-of-the-road for me,” he said.
Politically, Klobuchar is a more moderate politician than some of the other Democrats already in the presidential race, ranking as the 66th most conservative member of the Senate on a list compiled by GovTrack, an independent website that monitors Congress. That places her ideologically to the right of Harris, Gillibrand and Booker.
That might appeal to voters like Joe McCulley and Josh Panos of the Phillips neighborhood, self-professed “political junkies” who showed up at the rally just to take in the spectacle of a presidential campaign launch.
Panos said Klobuchar’s strong history of bipartisanship could be an asset. While he views climate change as an “existential threat,” he also considers himself a pragmatist.
“As much as the Green New Deal sounds great, I don’t know if it will work now,” he said.
McCulley, an Army veteran, said his top priority was countering the global rise of authoritarianism and “repairing” the nation’s foreign policy in the wake of the Trump administration.
Panos expressed doubt that Klobuchar would make it very far in the contest, and said he was keeping an eye on O’Rourke, Harris and former Vice President Joe Biden, who has not yet entered the 2020 race.
“The biggest thing is showing the world we are not Donald Trump,” he said.