Are Democrats Overlooking Their Most Electable Candidate?

The case for Amy Klobuchar.

In the past six months, Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, and Kamala Harris have all surged in the Democratic primary and cemented themselves in the “top tier”—the group of five candidates that includes Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders. Voters have seen something in each of them, whether it’s Warren’s plans, Buttigieg’s knack for articulately answering questions, or Harris’s ability to command the debate stage. But if beating Donald Trump is priority number one, Democratic voters should turn their attention to a candidate who hasn’t broken out yet—Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar.

It’s easy to forget, but last fall and winter, Klobuchar was considered a serious contender for the Democratic nomination. Her questioning of Brett Kavanaugh drew widespread praise from Democrats. She placed fourth in one February poll of Iowa caucus goers, ahead of both Warren and Harris. Her candidacy was met with excitement by a host of political commentators from across the anti-Trump spectrum. Now, however, she’s polling at just one or two percent.

That’s a shame, because Klobuchar is what Americans used to agree a president should be before the rise of “fake it til you make it” culture—experienced, knowledgeable, and effective. Klobuchar has served in the Senate for over a decade, whereas Warren was first elected in 2012. Harris has less than three years of experience.

Klobuchar hasn’t just been marking time. One study determined that she was the most effective Senator of the 115th Congress. She also ranked first in bills signed into law in the 114th Congress. During her tenure, she has been the primary sponsor of thirty-three bills signed into law, covering a diverse group of issue areas including infrastructure, addiction recovery, and promoting women in entrepreneurship. By contrast, during his much longer career, Bernie Sanders has only been the lead on seven successful bills.

Klobuchar is also prepared to hit the ground running as president. Last week, she released her plan for more than 100 actions in her first 100 days, including steps to fight climate change, improve access to health care, lower prescription drug costs, and address income inequality. Most importantly, in contrast to other candidates, whose “plans” more closely resemble fantasies, Klobuchar’s action items are grounded in reality and can be achieved through executive action or pragmatic legislation. Aside from Joe Biden, no other candidate in the field would be as prepared for the job on day one.

None of that touches on what is arguably Klobuchar’s greatest virtue—her electability. She has consistently outperformed other Democrats in red states or districts. In 2018, she won her election in Minnesota by twenty-four points, the same margin Warren won by in Massachusetts. And she has won a majority of counties in every election, including winning counties that Trump won by over twenty points. Her Midwestern appeal means she has the strongest chance of winning the key states of Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. Whereas most Democrats would have to sink time and money into Minnesota, Klobuchar could rely on her home state advantage and devote more resources to other states.

Klobuchar has been careful not to tack too far to the left in the Democratic primary, which could pay dividends in the general election. She has legitimate progressive credentials—she has voted with Bernie Sanders 88 percent of the time—but she hasn’t adopted some of her colleagues’ more extreme positions. She does not advocate for getting rid of private health insurance, which is in step with what most Americans want. Nor does she think we should abolish Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which also aligns with the majority of voters. It may be easy for Republicans to portray Kamala Harris or Bernie Sanders as socialists who care more about undocumented immigrants than citizens. But they’d have a much tougher time painting Klobuchar with such a broad brush.

Klobuchar would also make a great contrast to Donald Trump on the debate stage. If moderators hadn’t repeatedly cut her off during the first debate, voters may have noticed that she seemed well prepared to go after Trump. She pointed out that Trump said people’s “heads would spin” after he lowered prescription drug costs, but that in truth, 2,500 drug prices have gone up double digits since he took office. She focused on universal concerns like childcare and education. She even joked about Trump conducting foreign policy in a bathrobe. Klobuchar can match Trump zinger for zinger while doing something he cannot—convincing most Americans that she actually cares about them.

Some Democrats may not like the idea of voting based on electability, but it is difficult to find any “liberal” proposal Klobuchar doesn’t support that could realistically pass by 2024 anyway. Plus, if a Democrat doesn’t beat Trump, her politics won’t matter.

Similarly, many primary voters may have been dissuaded by stories about how Klobuchar treats her staff, and there’s no doubt that her reported conduct is less than ideal. But it’s also clear that this hasn’t stopped Klobuchar from being one of the country’s most effective senators. And if she is the candidate most likely to win in the general election, then her management style shouldn’t stop Democrats from making her the nominee.

I worry that Klobuchar is a victim of bad timing. She is running for president in the social media age. She may be too reasonable to stand out and too composed to go viral. But hopefully Democratic voters can tune out the noise and consider the candidate, because Amy Klobuchar may have the best chance of beating Donald Trump.

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David Edward Burke

David Edward Burke is a Washington Monthly contributing writer and the founder of Citizens Take Action, a nonprofit organization focused on campaign finance reform and increasing civic engagement.