It took a year of campaigning, countless stump speeches and an especially strong night on the debate stage for little-known Democratic presidential hopeful Amy Klobuchar to break into the top tier of the 2020 campaign in New Hampshire.
Now she has less than two weeks to make it count.
The Minnesota senator began working Wednesday to turn her better-than-expected third-place finish — and a surge of fundraising — into enough momentum to be competitive in next-up Nevada, South Carolina and beyond. For Klobuchar, that means consolidating establishment and moderate voters, picking up traction with black and Latino Democrats and introducing herself to most everyone else.
Her campaign launched two new television and digital ads in Nevada, and she was heading to Las Vegas to hold a Thursday campaign rally and speak at a town hall sponsored by a major Latino rights group. She also plans to stump over the next week in states that vote in the March 3 “Super Tuesday” contests, and is staffing up with help from the more than $6 million she's raised since Friday's debate.
Counts as a victory
Tuesday's showing counted as a victory for a candidate who spent much of the campaign boasting about being in the “top five” of the crowded field. Klobuchar used the moment to put her no-nonsense appeal in the spotlight. She spoke of growing up the granddaughter of an iron ore miner, becoming the first female senator from Minnesota and defying expectations in the 2020 race and her plan to win the party's nomination.
“Because of you we are taking this campaign to Nevada. We are going to South Carolina, and we are taking this message of unity to the country,” Klobuchar told cheering supporters Tuesday night.
The senator appeared to benefit Tuesday from former Vice President Joe Biden's sliding support, picking up moderate and conservative voters looking for an alternative to liberal Sen. Bernie Sanders, the New Hampshire winner, and rejecting political newcomer and second-place finisher Pete Buttigieg.
But Klobuchar's quest is still an uphill climb. The senator has focused almost all her time and campaign resources in Iowa and New Hampshire, building only spare operations in the states that follow on the primary calendar. She has polled poorly among minority voters, a big obstacle in more diverse states like Nevada and South Carolina. Although she will likely see a bump in support, more donations and new media attention, Klobuchar's challenge is to set up the infrastructure to capitalize on her moment.
She's starting from behind. Klobuchar's Nevada team wasn't hired until last fall and numbered fewer than a dozen until the campaign redeployed staff from Iowa last week, giving her about 30 people on the ground. Sanders, who essentially tied Buttigieg in Iowa, has been organizing in Nevada since April 2019 and has more than 250 staffers in the state. Biden has more than 80, Buttigieg has about 100 and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren has more than 50.
Next stop is Nevada
Klobuchar is now hoping the appeal that worked for her in New Hampshire will have a similar impact in Nevada on Feb. 22. The three-term senator campaigned as someone who has won even in conservative areas and who could draw support from Democrats, independents and disaffected Republicans to beat Trump. She also points to her record of getting things done in Washington and argues that proposals like “Medicare for All,'' backed by Sanders and Warren, are nonstarters in the Senate.
But it was Klobuchar's debate performance that appeared to have the biggest impact on her showing Tuesday. More than half of Klobuchar's supporters made up their minds in the last few days, according to AP VoteCast, a survey of more than 3,000 Democratic primary voters in New Hampshire conducted for The Associated Press by NORC at the University of Chicago.
On the attack
Klobuchar went on the attack against Buttigieg and delivered a passionate closing promise to fight for the voters who don't feel seen or heard by politicians in Washington.
Those selling points helped convince voters like Linda Muchemore, a retiree from Greenland, New Hampshire, who settled on Klobuchar last week after leaning toward Warren.
Klobuchar's record in the Senate ”spoke to me of somebody who could maybe heal the animosity we have,'' Muchemore said. ''I found out that I'm not as liberal as I thought I was. Those moderate plans that Amy has speak more to me than Elizabeth's more radical, Bernie plans.''
Klobuchar's late surge over Warren was a surprise twist in the race. Warren, from neighboring Massachusetts, has been leading in the polling, but both women have struggled to convince voters that a woman can win. On Tuesday night, Warren congratulated Klobuchar — “my friend and colleague” — and noted how wrong pundits are “when they count us out.”
Klobuchar responded to “my friend Elizabeth'' soon after.
“People told me just like they told her that they didn't think a woman could be elected,” she said. “In my case it was elected to the U.S. Senate. No woman had ever done it before. But I came back, I defied expectations, and I won.''
For much of the race, Klobuchar has lagged toward the back of the pack in fundraising and had just under $5 million in reserve at the end of 2019 — far less than all other leading contenders. Her goal coming out of Friday's debate was to raise $1 million, a lifeline that would allow her to forge on in contests ahead. She quickly reached that amount and, to her own surprise, she doubled it within 24 hours.
Hearing from first-time donors
By Tuesday, her campaign said that sum had climbed to $4 million. She raised an additional $2.5 million after polls closed Tuesday, with about 60% of donations coming from first-time donors, which the campaign called a sign that her message is resonating with voters and that her campaign has room to grow.
Unlike the other leading contenders in the race, Klobuchar is the only candidate who is not getting extra help from a super PAC or outside group, which can raise and spend unlimited sums so long as they do not coordinate advertising spending decisions with the candidate they support.