On the evening after a Democratic primary debate in which Amy Klobuchar and political rival Pete Buttigieg exchanged pointed barbs — “are you trying to say that I’m dumb,” she asked him at one point — Klobuchar bounded into the cavernous hangar area of the Stanley Marketplace in Aurora and got right to it.
“As you know, we had a debate last night and I just thought it would be nice to come to a place where, you know, everybody knows your name and people are nice to you,” she said, grinning.
Cheers turned to laughter. Packed shoulder-to-shoulder and wall-to-wall were hundreds of moderate Democrats, committed Klobuchar fans, undecideds and triangulating progressives who said they want only one thing: President Donald Trump’s defeat. And if that means choosing a candidate who might appeal to more conservative friends and relatives because there is no way in hell Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren will, then, voter after voter said, so be it.
“My heart is with Elizabeth Warren and it always has been, but my mind says she’s a little too left for electability,” Deborah Blake said, in what would be a common refrain from self-described lefties throughout the evening.
“I think the current administration needs to go, so what is the best vehicle to get us there,” said Jon Blake. “Right now there are too many moderates in the race and they are helping Bernie.”
“It’s who can beat Trump and I think that means avoiding the extremes,” said Susan Bachar, who joined the Blakes in their let’s-see-what-Klobuchar-is-like mission.
This was a pragmatist’s crowd.
“Amy is a common-sense Democrat,” said Ruth Pederson, while waiting in a line that stretched through the Marketplace, a former factory turned slick food hall. She rattled off other qualities she admired in Klobuchar: humor, integrity, experience, a record of winning in more conservative districts. Pederson had already returned her ballot with its Klobuchar vote. “I agree with a lot of progressive positions, but I don’t think you jump from where we are now to where they want to go. I just don’t think we need to burn everything down to get to where we need to go.”
This question of electability, the battle of heart and mind, somewhat bothers Wallis Finger, who stood on the outskirts of the still-gathering crowd with her husband, Ed Gorman, and their five-week old baby.
“How are you defining electability?” she asked, “and is that definition basically the image of an older, white guy?”
Neither have made up their minds. “I feel a little unmoored right now,” Finger said, acknowledging, “Yes, it does make me feel anxious. The general election will be hard and it makes me nervous.”
An hour south in Colorado Springs, President Trump was whipping up an arena of tens of thousands of supporters, some of whom camped overnight to see and hear him speak. Later, at a private fundraiser in Greenwood Village, Klobuchar would note that Trump name-checked her, and, according to a press pool report, she went on to cite a recent Pennsylvania poll that had her up 7% over Trump in a match-up.
The Klobuchar crowd was largely white, spanning the white-haired and the baby-faced, though, one man noted to another in the crowd: “Not enough millennials here. That’s a problem.”
The die-hard Klobuchar voters, no waffling for them, also were out in force. They were voters whom the U.S. senator from Minnesota won over during Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing with her sharp questions and her story of her father’s alcoholism. They were voters who had some connection to the Minnesota and “the middle of the country,” and voters for whom Klobuchar is the down-to-earth granddaughter of a miner who went to Yale and then to law school and then to the U.S. Senate, but who still carries in her speech and manner something familiar and reassuring.
“She is someone you could have a cup of coffee and a doughnut with and she would eat the doughnut,” said Sandi Schlegel. “She’s an amazing woman. I love that she was a prosecutor. She will bring back empathy, class, morality.”
From over Schlegel’s shoulders, others called out: “And honor.” “And integrity.”
“I’m on the other side of my life now,” Schlegel continued. “But I have children and grandchildren and when I think about what we are leaving them, it breaks my heart. We need her vision.”
The question naturally arises in a hangar full of people drawn to the middle lane: What about Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg? And the answers here were consistent, too. Buttigieg is smart and eloquent, but he might still be too young, too polished, too untested, and, one voter said, because Buttigieg is gay, “a red state will never go for him.” Biden, voters said, often with a tone of regret, is too old, too past his political prime and the fire in his belly seems diminished. Bloomberg came up largely in one context: He’s pouring gajillions into beating Donald Trump and that might not make him presidential material, but it makes him useful.
“I basically think that three guys should drop out and all three start with the letter ‘B’,” said Suzette Spezzano of Denver. Spezzano, who arrived early to claim a front-row spot. She said she is generally in agreement with Klobuchar’s policies and likes her focus on cyber-security, but wanted a better sense of her personality, of her charisma. She’s already seen and briefly met Buttigieg (“no charisma”) and plans to give him another shot when he comes to town Saturday. Then she plans to see Warren on Sunday.
In any case, every one of about three dozen voters interviewed said they will vote for the eventual nominee. No matter who it is. “Even Bernie,” Pederson said, with a wince.
Klobuchar kept to the familiar stump, stories first, policy last, at times funny, at times earnest, but always returning to the theme of being the middle-America candidate who can unite the country. In the biggest applause line of the night — it was more of a sustained roar — Klobuchar talked about making it easier to pay back student loans saying, “this is not just in my first 100 days, it’s in my first 100 seconds, and my solution: Fire Betsy DeVos.”
This election will be the “decency election,” she said, “the patriotism election.” And with strong turnout, it would be the election that changes the Senate, she said, because the presidency is not enough.
“The thing that unites us more than divides us, what is that?” Klobuchar asked, as she wound up her remarks. “Winning.”
And then she was off stage and into the crowd, mobbed by well-wishers, and Spezzano, joining the swarm, declared: “Now, that’s charisma.”