McFeely: Klobuchar's appeal evident in Trump-loving rural Clay County
FARGO -- The long knives are out for U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar, Democrat from Minnesota, who is expected to announce her candidacy for president on Sunday, Feb. 10. Some national media outlets reported last week Klobuchar is a Bad Boss, one of the toughest politicos in Washington, D.C., for whom to work, the implication being it might make her a Bad President.
Democrats are funny creatures. If it was a Democratic opponent planting the stories about Klobuchar in the media, the idea would be to submarine her chances by making her seem insufferable. There would be a couple of problems with that theory.
First, politics is a rough-and-tumble, take-no-prisoners business and an oversized mean streak isn't necessarily a bad thing.
And second, have those trying to undercut Klobuchar taken note of the current occupant of the White House and his personality traits? Seems a broad swath of Americans find a no-nonsense boss appealing.
That swath would include many good folks in our backyard. Rural Clay County, Minn., -- townships like Spring Prairie, Kurtz, Alliance and many others -- voted strongly for Republican president Donald Trump in 2016. Rural voters overwhelmed those in the San Francisco-like liberal bastion of Moorhead, in fact, pushing Trump to a 2-point advantage in the county.
Rural Clay County, Minn., is Trump Country. He won 43 of the 58 precincts in the county in 2016 and of the 15 won by Democrat Hillary Clinton, 13 were in Moorhead city limits.
But here's a twist, and why Klobuchar's announcement is intriguing to Democrats looking for a candidate with broad appeal to middle-of-the-road voters tired of the partisan craziness:
Klobuchar was more popular than Trump at the county ballot box when she was re-elected last fall.
Clay County was a microcosm of Minnesota as a whole, where Klobuchar won 51 of the state's 87 counties. Including, Klobuchar proudly points out whenever given the opportunity, 42 that were won by Trump.
In Clay County, Klobuchar won 48 precincts and totaled 14,590 votes in a mid-term election. Trump totaled 13,549 votes in the county.
Amy Klobuchar trumped Donald Trump in Clay County.
"Her moderation and common-sense approach appeals to Clay County voters," said DFL state Rep. Paul Marquart of Dilworth, who knows a thing or two about moderation and common sense. "Also, she's been here quite often during floods and other times."
This means almost nothing in terms of the Minnesota senator's presidential prospects -- she must first navigate the brutal months-long nomination process against a large field of flame-throwing liberals with greater appeal to the base of the Democratic Party, and if given the choice between Klobuchar and Trump, rural voters might just choose Trump again -- but Klobuchar's persona of a low-key, pragmatic politician resonates.
Hey, she cooks hotdish!
"She is perceived to be somebody who is willing to work across the aisle. She is willing to work with Republicans," says Tom Hauser, a political reporter for KSTP-TV in the Twin Cities who has covered Klobuchar for years. "She is not considered to be a strident, far-left Democrat. She's more of a center-left, moderate Democrat. Certainly leaning to the left, but not as far left as a Kamala Harris or a Bernie Sanders or others who are in the race or likely to be in the race."
In other words, Klobuchar is a better fit for rural America than a liberal from the East or West coasts.
Certainly part of her popularity in Clay County and other rural Minnesota areas is name recognition. She's been a U.S. Senator since 2006. But whatever her office temperament, her public persona is one of warmth and friendliness. And her work in the Senate has been focused on unsexy issues like prescription drug prices and health care.
"I'm a fan of Klobuchar," says DFL state Sen. Kent Eken of Twin Valley, whose district includes Clay County. "I think she does well here in part because she is not a bomb thrower and is not an extreme partisan. She's also a very likable person who visits our area quite often."
Klobuchar has publicly avoided the hottest-button topics like guns, abortion and Trump's border wall. Her highest-profile moment was during the U.S. Supreme Court nomination hearing of Brett Kavanaugh, when she and Kavanaugh got into a brief exchange about excessive drinking. Klobuchar's father is an alcoholic and the senator mildly scolded the fiery Kavanaugh. He later apologized.
While Klobuchar's vanilla public record doesn't fire up Democratic activists who support Harris or Sanders, it plays in the small towns and farm country of places like Clay County.
"I think Sen. Klobuchar brings two big strengths to the presidential campaign among Democrats," Marquart said. "One, her moderate stance on the issues will contrast greatly with the ultra-liberal Democratic candidates already in the race. And her Midwest base helps in crucial states that President Trump won in 2016 like Wisconsin, Michigan and Iowa."