Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar urged a more cautious approach than many of her Democratic rivals on impeachment, health care, college tuition, and student loans on Monday night in New Hampshire.
Klobuchar was the first of five of the party’s 2020 presidential contenders to participate in back-to-back town halls hosted by CNN. Here are four takeaways from her appearance:
Riding the caution lane
Perhaps more than any other Democratic candidate, Klobuchar has staked out the moderate lane in this crowded race for the party’s nomination in 2020. That was immediately evident in her CNN town hall Monday night when she essentially declined to answer questions about whether the Mueller report offered grounds to impeach President Donald Trump.
In her dodge, she said Trump should be held accountable and called some of his behavior detailed in the report “appalling,” but wasn’t exactly clear about what the consequences should be – beyond congressional hearings and bringing Mueller before the Senate to testify.
Klobuchar noted that impeachment originates in the House, and that the Senate’s role is that of a jury. In measured tones, she noted that she is waiting to see all the evidence as a former prosecutor, and said Americans could see justice through the varied investigations that continue into Trump’s conduct. Closing the loop, she said the third way to hold Trump accountable “is by defeating him in the 2020 election – and I believe I can do that.”
She won’t win the hearts of the most ardent (and enraged) Democratic activists with that answer, but she’s staking out a position that would put her on safer ground with independents and moderates who will be key in the general election.
‘I have to be straight with you’
Klobuchar continued to tack to the center when she cast college tuition and student loan debt forgiveness proposals from other candidates as unrealistic.
Instead, she offered a narrower set of proposals, including expanding Pell Grants, allowing students to refinance their loans and pushing for free community college.
“I wish I could staple a free college diploma under every one of your chairs. I do. Don’t look. It’s not there,” she told the audience in New Hampshire. “I wish I could do that, but I have to be straight with you and tell you the truth.”
Purple state cred
Klobuchar highlighted her history of winning big in a purple state – including last year, when she said she won 40 of the counties that Trump had won in 2016 when he came within two percentage points of victory in Minnesota. She said she earned voters’ trust by “going not just where it’s comfortable, but where it’s uncomfortable” – including farms and small-town cafes.
The approach makes sense: Polls have consistently shown Democratic primary voters are much more focused on their candidates’ electability than they have been in previous presidential races.
But does it inspire?
“Every single time I have run, I have won every single congressional district in my state, including Michele Bachmann’s, OK?” Klobuchar said.
When the comment was met by silence, she coaxed out applause by adding: “That’s when you guys are supposed to cheer, OK?”
The light touch
If you look at Klobuchar’s standing near the bottom of the polls, one thing she needs is a few more breakout moments, like the one she had shutting down then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s questions about drinking during his confirmation hearings last year. She showed, back then and in candid moments on the trail, that she’s got a quick wit and a light touch that can go over well with voters.
She showed that in a mini-moment Monday night when she playfully accused CNN anchor Chris Cuomo of creeping over her shoulder as she tried to finish answering a question. “Not in a Trumpian manner,” she said slyly – cautioning Cuomo that she wasn’t finished with her answer. The Minnesota senator was, of course, alluding to the famous moment in the Hillary Clinton-Donald Trump debates when the then-Republican candidate seemed stalking Hillary Clinton on stage as he encroached on her personal space in one of their rounds.
Many female voters really didn’t like that. It remains a vivid memory for some who still bring it up in interviews on the trail when they talk about their worries in nominating another woman to face Trump. Every time Klobuchar can signal to audiences that she’d hold her ground if faced with that kind of behavior from Trump, it’s a good moment for her – even if her joke was at Cuomo’s expense.