The senior U.S. senator from Minnesota, Amy Klobuchar, will be up for re-election next year. Most political observers consider her to be a shoo-in. So much so, in fact, that she has been testing the political waters in Iowa, which has led to speculation that her ambitions are higher than another term in the Senate.
Indeed, when the ECM Editorial Board met with her on Aug. 18, she refused to say whom she thought was the face of the Democratic Party nationally. Klobuchar was pressed hard on the issue, and she finally said that many of
the Democrats who are speaking out are from both coasts, and that’s not a good thing. She said, “It’s very important that we have people from other parts of the country running.”
She’s right. In 2016, of the 20 states carried by Hillary Clinton, only six of them did not border on the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. That’s six out of 31 states in so-called fly-over land.
Regardless, Klobuchar still has to get re-elected. She is perceived as a heavy favorite for a few reasons. First, in non-presidential years, the president’s party almost always has a tough time. Since 1913, Minnesota has had 17 Senate elections in non-presidential years. The president’s party has won only five.
That’s because a substantial chunk of Minnesota’s electorate doesn’t understand the importance of voting for anyone besides the president. If historical trends continue, voter turnout statewide will be down about 900,000 in 2018 compared to 2016.
Second, in her two previous statewide campaigns, Klobuchar won by landslides. In 2006, she received 58.1 percent of the vote, and in 2012, she garnered 65.2 percent. Given the turnout at anti-Trump rallies this year, Klobuchar most likely won’t have much trouble getting her supporters to the polls.
Republicans haven’t exactly been standing in line to run against her. State Rep. Jim Newberger, R-Becker, is the only challenger so far. Part of the reluctance is that the monied interests are firmly on Klobuchar’s side; she has $4.6 million in her campaign coffers as of the last report.
Third, Klobuchar has a disarming personality. She’s a marvelous storyteller; she probably got that from her dad, Jim Klobuchar, who was a columnist for the Minneapolis newspaper for many years. In the few times I’ve met with her, she always has a tidbit of Senate gossip to share or a story about her family.
In the Aug. 18 meeting with the ECM Editorial Board, she said she decided to run for re-election because “compromises are still possible” in the U.S. Senate and to make some changes to the Affordable Care Act (ACA). She has voted against all the Republican proposals to repeal and/or replace the ACA, and who is responsible for that lack of “compromise” is determined by one’s political viewpoint.
“Compromise” is an interesting approach because the truth is that, these days, officeholders who engage in too much compromise usually find themselves with a serious challenge from the extreme base of their own party. Republicans say that she is just as partisan as other Democrats, but the idea of “compromise” remains popular with independents who would like to see more solutions coming out of Washington and less blame.
With regard to health care, Klobuchar would, in particular, like to lower the cost of prescription drugs by letting senior citizens negotiate as a bloc on Medicare Part D, allowing less expensive drugs to be brought in from other countries and by doing more to make easier the use of and access to generic drugs. Accomplishing any of that, she said, will be difficult because, “Both parties are beholden to Big Pharma honestly.”
She also noted that Republicans “going out of their comfort zone to compromise” are becoming less likely to do so because “they don’t know if the president is going to undermine them” as he has with Sens. John McCain, Mitch McConnell and others.
With regard to Russian attempts to influence the last U.S. election, she referred to a National Security Agency report. She said the Russians tried in three ways: with fake news; with hacking into the emails of the Democratic National Committee (which authorities now believe may have been an inside job), John Podesta (chair of Hillary Clinton’s campaign) and other aides; and trying to hack into the election equipment in more than 20 states. (Minnesota was not among them.) The question now is whether any of this was done in coordination with the Trump campaign.
As for North Korea, she said the key to a solution has to come with Chinese help because 90 percent of North Korea’s foreign trade goes through China. She said, “We can never take the military option off the table,” although it would be possible that 10 million people in South Korea would be killed in a renewal of the Korean War.
All that said, these remain unusual times in which the existing political order is under attack more than it has been in a half century. My view is that to make her sweat much, it will take a major shift in the political landscape — such as a nuclear war — or an exceptionally talented candidate who can use Klobuchar’s millions to paint her as the insider elitist candidate.
Tom West can be reached at [email protected]