Read: Amy Klobuchar’s hazy heartland economics
After the event, Mary Kate Cola, a 66-year-old from Harpers Ferry, Iowa, told me she’d been impressed by how grounded Klobuchar’s pitch seemed. She mentioned that the night before, in Decorah, she’d attended an event for Joe Biden, who’s occupying the space Klobuchar would need to grab for any of this to work. “I have a lot of respect for Joe Biden, but he focused a bit too much on the dignity of the country,” Cola said. So was she sold on Klobuchar? “She’s just moved up my list,” Cola said.
I asked what was keeping her from committing fully.
“Too many choices,” she said.
Female candidates tend to be held back by a double standard that affects how they run for office: Men campaign on what they say they will do if elected; women campaign by showing what they have done. Sure enough, Klobuchar has a “here’s my track record” section in every speech, in which she talks about bills she’s passed and Republican districts she’s won during her Senate campaigns. This makes her seem worthy, but it’s hardly exciting. Maybe, I suggested to her, she’s a really good senator, but not in a way that translates into being an effective presidential candidate. “You have to look at the fact that I always rise to the occasion of every job I have,” she told me. “When I was county attorney, I ran unopposed for my second time in a race that was often very contested,” observing pointedly that the county was bigger than “many small towns.”
Of course, counties are generally bigger than towns—her reference to “small towns” is yet another dig at Buttigieg. (Hennepin County, which she represented as county attorney, is 10 times the size of South Bend, Indiana.) Buttigieg’s (pretty successful) effort to establish himself as the sober, center-left midwesterner clearly eats at Klobuchar. She’s the midwesterner people should be paying attention to. She’s the one who can point to a long career of actual achievements. When Buttigieg laments what Washington hasn’t gotten things done, she takes it personally. Those were some of her bills that he’s dismissing, belittling work she and others did on the Affordable Care Act, the Iran nuclear deal, the response to the global financial crisis, as well as other, smaller issues. “I don’t view these as wasted times,” she said. “I view them as frustrating times, but I don’t think of them as wasted.”
(When I asked Buttigieg about this, he didn’t back away from his criticisms. “While there is no equivalency between the bad faith of the Republican Party and the challenges we face on the Democratic side,” he said, “I do think we need an overall different approach than what’s been going on for the better part of my lifetime in Washington, and on Capitol Hill in particular.”)
All of the candidates outside the top four (Biden, Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Buttigieg) have been hoping for some big shake-up that upends the race. “I still believe, and the data supports this, this is going to be as late-breaking a Democratic race as we have ever had,” Addisu Demissie, Cory Booker’s campaign manager, said on a conference call with reporters last week, trying to argue that it’s no big deal the senator from New Jersey was not in last night’s debate and is even further back in the polls than Klobuchar, citing recent data that suggest many voters have yet to settle on a candidate.
In Waukon, a woman asked Klobuchar whether she’d ever just given up. “She never does that,” her husband, John, piped up from the back. “I can tell you that.”