ST. CLOUD, Minn. — Wayne Grimmer sees U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar as a dark horse candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Grimmer, the chairman of the Minnesota 6th Congressional District Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, is interested to see how Klobuchar does in a state that largely supports her.
“I think she has a good chance,” Grimmer said.
But she’s not a shoo-in. And a loss could be an embarrassment to her campaign, say two political experts.
“This is a state where the DFL, the base of the DFL, are probably more progressive than Amy Klobuchar. So I think there’s a real risk that she’ll lose Minnesota,” said Larry Jacobs, political science professor and department head at the University of Minnesota. (The DFL is Minnesota’s version of the Democratic Party.)
“I think Sanders has a very good chance here,” said Steven Schier, professor of political science at Carleton College. “I think he’s her main rival and threat here in Minnesota.”
U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders won the Minnesota Democratic presidential caucus against Hillary Clinton in 2016 with 62% of the vote. This year he has the endorsement of U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, a Minneapolis Democrat, and the progressive group TakeAction Minnesota.
Klobuchar won her most recent Minnesota election with more than 60% of the vote in 2018 to launch her into a third U.S. Senate term.
The Klobuchar campaign did not respond to requests for an interview.
‘An extremely effective senator’
Klobuchar surged last week to place third in the New Hampshire primary with nearly 20% of the vote. And the week prior she finished fifth in the Iowa caucuses, behind former South Bend, Indiana, mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sanders, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and former Vice President Joe Biden.
State Rep. Dan Wolgamott, D-St. Cloud, campaigned for Klobuchar in Iowa with his 13-year-old daughter. He and his daughter admire Klobuchar.
“Amy is going to do great in Minnesota,” Wolgamott said, with his characteristic enthusiasm. She works hard to build relationships, reach out to people and get things done, he said.
“I’m trying to model myself after her approach. She’s been an extremely effective senator,” Wolgamott said.
Klobuchar markets herself as a moderate who has won in red parts of Minnesota.
But the DFL primary might bring out a more liberal crowd in her home state, especially if privacy rules for the primary don’t change, meaning voters’ party choices are shared.
“That’s going to cut down on participation, and I think create an electorate that’s more ideological,” Schier said.
Klobuchar’s performance in the Feb. 22 Nevada caucus and the Feb. 29 South Carolina primary will also affect her chances on Super Tuesday, March 3, he said. “Money and attention flows with the results.”
Fourteen states hold primaries on Super Tuesday, most on the coasts and in the south.
‘A resource game’
“Amy Klobuchar cannot be everywhere at the same time,” Jacobs said. She’s made progress by working hard and smart and seizing opportunities, but other candidates have more resources, including Sanders and billionaire Mike Bloomberg, former mayor of New York.
“She’s going to need a good showing,” Jacobs said about Super Tuesday. “We’re getting very close to the ‘prove it’ point.”
The race will become increasingly expensive with more and larger states in play, Jacobs said.
Losing your home state could “puncture momentum” and limit fundraising, Schier said.
“It’s a resource game now and Bloomberg is king in that regard,” Schier said, citing personalized letters and phone calls from Bloomberg’s campaign to Minnesota voters. “He’s been the most conspicuous candidate publicly of any of the Democratic field so far.”
Bloomberg and Warren campaigners have reached out to the St. Cloud-area DFL party.
The Warren campaign will have a table at the caucus next week held by Senate District 14 DFL, said Emily Esch, chairwoman of that DFL district.
“Honestly, I have no idea,” Esch said about the Minnesota Democratic primary predictions.
Esch does know Sanders’ supporters are organizing and Klobuchar has a base of support, she said. “She’s always been incredibly popular in Minnesota and won really easily.”
Klobuchar’s brand is tied to her Midwest roots, Jacobs said.
“Her calling card is: ‘I represent the heartland,'” he said. “If she wins, it will be a shrug. If she loses Minnesota, it will be an embarrassment.”