Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, has been making the case on the debate stage, in interviews and on the campaign trail that, if Democrats figure out that a moderate has the best chance to beat President Donald Trump, she is their best bet. Her case has gotten stronger with time.
Her supporters would argue that former vice president Joe Biden is not sharp and energetic enough, South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg is too green, former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg’s “stop and frisk” track record makes him anathema to African Americans (while the broader base has no great love for billionaires), and no other moderate (e.g., Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock) has broken through.
Klobuchar, appearing on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos,” made her case forcefully on Sunday: “I think that’s what we need right now and we need someone who has, yes, bold ideas. And I think one of the things we’ve learned in these debates is, there’s no monopoly on bold ideas.” That was a slap at the Medicare-for-all crowd, in case you had any doubts. She takes pride in calling out fantasy plans that the average voters can see are never going to happen:
“My argument from the beginning that we don’t want to kick 149 million Americans off their health care and their current insurance in four years, that most people agree with me. And that we don’t want to give free college to rich kids. Most people agree with me in our party. That being said, I think we can bring premiums way down. We can take on pharmaceutical prices. And that’s the case that I’m making. And that’s why we are moving up right now.”
She rhetorically rolled her eyes regarding Bloomberg’s announcement. “I am the granddaughter of an iron ore miner who worked 1,500 feet underground his whole life, the daughter of a union teacher and a newspaper man,” she said, boasting of her heartland and middle class bona fides. “I just don’t think people are going to buy it, that you just buy – put a bunch of money, maybe the argument is, hey, I’ve got more money than the guy in the White House, I don’t think they’re going to buy that.” Judging from the Tom Steyer example, she might be right. Bloomberg is certainly an accomplished mayor with strong climate change and gun-safety credentials, but is there a Bloomberg electorate out there? We have not seen it yet.
Klobuchar’s argument against Buttigieg, as well as the progressive senators amounts to, “The proof is in the pudding.” It’s not simply that Buttigieg is young or that his city is very small that makes him less qualified, Klobuchar argues. It’s that he – just like most of the rest of the field – does not have any evidence he can win on a national level (“I have won major rural districts, major suburban districts time and time again and brought people with me”), nor a track record of having gotten things done in the era of hyperpartisanship. (“I have actually gotten things done in the gridlock of Washington, D.C.”).
Earlier this year the Center for Effective Lawmaking at Vanderbilt University and the University of Virginia set out to find the most effective lawmaker. (“Effectiveness scores are based on 15 metrics that take into account the number of bills a legislator sponsors, how far each of those bills advances through the legislative process from introduction to (possibly) becoming law and its relative substantive significance.”) It turned out: “Sen. Klobuchar is not only the top-performing Democratic senator, but she is the fifth best-performing senator overall, despite her minority-party status. She is the only minority-party senator to break the overall top five since 2002, and is only the second minority-party senator to do so since Sen. John McCain did it in 1994.”
When she cites bills she has introduced encompassing policy ideas of others (e.g., the Honest Ads Act, prescription drug cost control), she indirectly makes the case that she has a level of seriousness, experience and street smarts others don’t.
Is this argument going to win over African Americans loyal to Biden or voters reveling in Buttigieg’s calm, whip-smart, outsider persona? It’s certainly possible that the promise of a fresh start Buttigieg offers or the comfort-level Biden provides voters, especially African American voters, have more appeal. That’s what elections are for. What is true, and remarkable considering the presence of so many higher wattage candidates, is that Klobuchar probably has as good a chance as anyone in the race. It’s that kind of election.
Jennifer Rubin writes reported opinion for The Washington Post. Follow her @JRubinBlogger.