TWO SUPPORTERS showed up on Norwegian cross-country skis; another pair stomped about happily in snow shoes; dogs came wrapped in brightly coloured winter gear. Amy Klobuchar’s campaign launch in Minneapolis was not for the faint-hearted, or anyone who had forgotten to bring their gloves.
Ms Klobuchar is not widely known. Early polls (which are not worth much anyway) do not put her near the front of the pack in the Democratic primary. Yet of all the candidates who have so far declared, the senator for Minnesota may be the opponent Donald Trump would least like to face in a general election. If that is the most important consideration for Democratic primary voters, Ms Klobuchar should be taken very seriously.
Just as it is hard to kindle a fire in wet snow, she could struggle to generate much heat or light in a busy Democratic field. Ms Klobuchar is not from a rich family, nor is she backed by big donors, most of whom are found in cities on the coasts. In a brief chat with The Economist, she says “I don’t pretend that I’m the one with all the money right now,” but “we will raise the money that’s necessary—once people see me out in the snow I don’t know how they can’t help but give me money.”
Lack of dollars is not her only problem. As a quietly industrious toiler, and sometimes uninspiring orator, she is not well-known. She has some other disadvantages in a crowded primary field. Younger or more left-wing Democrats have grabbed attention by promising universal health care soon. Ms Klobuchar talks more carefully of that as an eventual goal. Some want to abolish ICE, the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. She talks instead of welcoming migrants and ending hatred towards foreigners. Others are likelier than Ms Klobuchar to appeal to African-American voters, who will have a big say in the early primary states.
Despite all that, do not write off Ms Klobuchar. She combines a wonkish seriousness with easy joke-making in a way that has broad appeal. She was the first female senator from Minnesota and has won each victory by impressively large margins over credible opponents. Ms Klobuchar scores highly on measures of electability—an effort to quantify a candidate’s electoral success when allowing for national trends, the benefits of incumbency and other factors.
In 2018, when she was re-elected as one of Minnesota’s senators, she performed vastly better in the state than Hillary Clinton had two years earlier. Ms Klobuchar even won the two House districts in Minnesota that switched from Democratic in 2016 to Republican in 2018. She does well in rural areas, including winning in 2018 in 43 counties that Mr Trump took easily in 2016. Plot Obama-Trump voters (those who switched from Barack Obama in 2012 to Mr Trump in 2016) on a map and you will find a high concentration in the Midwest.
Ms Klobuchar has already been a fairly frequent visitor to neighbouring Iowa, campaigning for fellow Democrats in territory which is a similar mixture of farming, industry and growing cities to that found in Minnesota. It is possible that her consensual, centrist demeanour will go down well with many Iowans. If polls there, and in turn caucuses next year, show the Minnesotan is popular in the Midwest, then her name recognition will improve and her money problems will ease.