Editor’s Note: Raul A. Reyes is an attorney and member of the USA Today board of contributors. Follow him on Twitter @RaulAReyes. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author. View more opinions on CNN.
Forget “Minnesota nice.” In her CNN town hall on Monday night, Sen. Amy Klobuchar came across as “Minnesota smart.” Taking questions from young people in New Hampshire, Klobuchar presented a command of the issues, a rapport with her audience, and a healthy sense of humor.
In a different year, there would be no question that Klobuchar deserves to be taken seriously as a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination. But this is a year with nearly 20 candidates competing for the nomination, and Klobuchar is not as flashy as rivals like Bernie Sanders or Kamala Harris. A March Quinnipiac University poll found her at 2% among Democrat and Democratic-leaning voters.
Monday was an opportunity for Klobuchar to make a case for herself, and she delivered a strong performance.
One of Klobuchar’s best moments came when she was asked how she would include rural communities in the climate change debate. This was not your usual climate change question, yet the senator was ready for it. “What do we see in front of us? This is what we see: floods all over Iowa, Nebraska, and Missouri,” she said. Klobuchar went on to talk about wildfires in Colorado, California and Arizona.
She noted that someone from the heartland was uniquely positioned to address climate change – which is often spoken of in terms of only coastal areas. “We need to do this … It’s my daughter and you guys who are going to be inheriting this earth and that’s why we need you on the front lines.” In the space of a few minutes, she combined the personal with the political and offered a fresh perspective on an important issue.
Later, Klobuchar was asked what she wished the public knew better about her political life, which may have been a reference to allegations that she is abusive towards her staff. (Last month, Klobuchar told CNN that she “can always do better” with her staff, and that toughness would be an asset as a leader on the world stage).
Klobuchar turned another potentially sensitive issue to her advantage when she spoke about her father’s battle with alcoholism, and how his receiving treatment allowed him to turn his life around.
She spoke about her father’s battle with alcoholism, and how his receiving treatment allowed him to turn his life around. Whether it is opioid or meth addiction, or any other form of substance abuse, Klobuchar said that she believes, “everyone has that same right to have the life that my dad eventually had …That is what this country is about.” Again, referencing her personal experiences in an authentic way showed good political instincts.
It speaks to her intelligence that Klobuchar seemed ready to outline positions that lack easy appeal, like her opposition to Medicare for all. This bodes well for her in the upcoming debates, when she will be on stage along with candidates with a more populist approach.
And while she spoke about wanting to allow more refinancing of student debt, she is not for free college or student loan forgiveness. This was no doubt a harder sell to young people – Klobuchar may not have won over an audience of college students.
She also gave a meandering answer to the question of whether Trump should be impeached, saying and that voters can have their say by defeating Trump in 2020. She probably should’ve had a more refined answer to what is obviously the question of the day.
There were no questions about immigration or DACA, or how Klobuchar planned to appeal to young voters of color. Nor were there any questions about gun violence in school. Yet Klobuchar made sure to bring this up in her closing statement when she praised the Parkland students for their activism, and encouraged young people to get involved in the political process. “You guys, this is your moment!”
Monday night was equally Klobuchar’s moment. If she didn’t always tell her audience what they may have wanted to hear, she still came across as thoughtful, prepared, and accessible. Well done.