“It is making an argument for immigration that is economic, and Donald Trump refuses to look at the economics of it. The economics of it is that we need workers in our factories all over the country, we need workers on our farms, and we need workers with creative ideas,” Klobuchar said. “At least 70 of our Fortune 500 companies are headed up by immigrants. So immigration has been a major driving economic force. And you can’t have economics with heart, and neglect 12 million people, and just pretend they’re not working in our economy.”
That sounds like “heart economics,” not heartland economics, I said.
“Well that’s fine, you can call it either way,” she told me. “I think we’re getting a little hung up on this term.”
A few days later, Garlin Gilchrist, the lieutenant governor of Michigan, was in Washington, and I asked him what he made of Klobuchar’s pitch. Gilchrist is a 36-year-old native Detroiter whose first run for office came after the Democrats’ 2016 disaster in Michigan. Last November, he became the first African American and first Detroit resident in decades elected statewide.
“I’m a Midwest kid. I’m from Detroit. When I say that, I mean I’m someone who cares about and respects people and actually comes to the table with [an] honest assessment of what reality is.” In that thought is the other big part of how Klobuchar presents herself, as the pragmatic problem solver with a track record of getting things done instead of just talking about ideas.
But proud as Gilchrist is of his hometown and of his state overall, he wasn’t sure whether that leads him to what Klobuchar is talking about.
“I don’t know that anyone would classify Detroit as ‘heartland.’ But what I think when I hear people talk about the heartland, they’re talking about people who work hard every day, who go to work, want to make sure they can put food on the table for their children, want to make sure their kids have clean water to drink, want to make sure if their kid gets sick they can take them to the doctor, want to make sure they can retire and not have their retirement be swiped out from under them,” he said. “If that’s heartland economics, then I think that works for people.”
Cory Booker was campaigning in Iowa that same weekend as Klobuchar, about two hours away. After making the drive, I asked the senator from New Jersey what he makes of heartland economics.
“I don’t know what she means. When I talk about corporate consolidation, I say, that’s a problem for folks out here, but I let people know, it’s the same problems that people are facing all over the country. For me, it’s letting people know we have to have an economy that works for everybody—it’s not working for people in farm towns, factories, suburbs, and cities,” he said.
Booker makes where he lives as much a part of his campaign as Klobuchar makes it part of hers. He talks about being the only senator to live in a low-income neighborhood of an inner city, on a block where a man was killed by an assault rifle. That’s where he announced his campaign, with reporters packed into the small concrete space in front of his house in Newark, also on a bitterly cold day, interrupted at one point by a neighbor calling out to him in Spanish from across the street.