Amy Klobuchar has had a good few days.
A string of strong polls over the weekend have shown the Minnesota senator overtaking Sen. Elizabeth Warren and former Vice President Joe Biden to reach third place in New Hampshire, which votes Tuesday. Over the weekend, her campaign reported $2.5 million in post-debate fundraising — an impressive two-day number in the context of the $11.4 million she raised in the last three months of 2019.
It’s a change for Klobuchar, whose national polling has been mired in the low single digits since she entered the race in February 2019. Nationally, she’s in sixth at 4.3 percent in the RealClearPolitics polling average, 4 percentage points behind former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg. But Biden’s weak performance in Iowa seems to have given Klobuchar, who came in just behind him in fifth place, an opening. And a strong performance in New Hampshire could bolster her candidacy going into Super Tuesday.
Like Buttigieg and Biden, Klobuchar has positioned herself as a moderate. On the debate stage, she has emphasized practicality, party unity, and a uniquely Midwestern case for electability: She’s mentioned repeatedly that she’s one of the only candidates who’s never lost a race — and that she outperformed Hillary Clinton in multiple Minnesota counties in 2016.
By framing her candidacy in this way, Klobuchar is targeting voters who may still be making up their minds — including some who are searching for a moderate alternative to the white male frontrunners. And recent polls indicate her message might be resonating in New Hampshire.
But even if she wins Tuesday night, the big question is how far that momentum can take her — and especially if this message will carry beyond New Hampshire given that she’s struggled to pick up support from nonwhite voters.
Klobuchar is competing for some of Biden and Buttigieg’s supporters
Klobuchar is gunning for many of the same voters as Biden and Buttigieg. So far, her strategy has focused on distinguishing herself from the other moderates as the best candidate among the three.
In recent debates, Klobuchar has tried to paint herself as more experienced than the 38-year-old Buttigieg yet still a more youthful, energetic alternative to the former vice president.
“It is easy to go after Washington because that’s a popular thing to do,” she told Buttigieg last week on the debate stage in New Hampshire. “It is much harder to lead, and much harder to take those difficult positions.”
She made a similar point in December: “When we were in the last debate, Mayor [Buttigieg], you basically mocked the hundred years of experience on the stage. And what do I see on this stage? I see Elizabeth’s work starting the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and helping 29 million people. ... So while you can dismiss committee hearings, I think this experience works.”
She also positioned herself as a coalition-building unity candidate with strong downballot coattails in an implicit response to Biden’s “electability” argument. “When you look at what I have done, I have won every race, every place, every time,” Klobuchar said during the January debate in Des Moines, Iowa. “I have won in the reddest of districts. I have won in the suburban areas, in the rural areas. I have brought people with me.”
For Klobuchar, a better-than-expected performance in New Hampshire, particularly if Biden fades further, could bring a much-needed bounce in fundraising and media coverage. The former vice president’s poll numbers have been in freefall following a disappointing fourth place in Iowa, so that’s a real possibility.
There’s a big question mark hanging over her candidacy
But there are limits to just how well Klobuchar could do in New Hampshire. Even her best polls show her 5 or more points down on second-place Buttigieg, and her support is only about half that of New Hampshire frontrunner Sanders.
While a large proportion of undecided voters in the Granite State means that Klobuchar could still have room to grow, her chances at an outright win in the state are slim at best.
More worryingly for her campaign, New Hampshire appears for now to be Klobuchar’s best shot at a strong result.
Iowa and New Hampshire are both extremely white, while Nevada and South Carolina are more diverse. There’s little indication so far that Klobuchar is winning over black and Hispanic voters. Her RealClearPolitics polling average in Nevada is just 3 percent — and that still beats out her 2-point average in South Carolina.
Klobuchar’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment, but in an interview with BuzzFeed News this month, Klobuchar communications director Carlie Waibel said that she believes Klobuchar’s support with voters of color will increase as she becomes better-known.
“It has become clear that as Senator Klobuchar visits more places and meets more people, her support grows — including with people of color,” Waibel told BuzzFeed. “As our campaign continues to ramp up, we expect our support to continue to grow.”
A strong showing in New Hampshire could potentially help Klobuchar’s standing with African American and Hispanic voters, particularly if voters backing Biden start looking for another alternative. There are signs that his South Carolina “firewall” with black voters is beginning to falter as he loses support.
But if those voters are moving to Klobuchar, it’s not showing up in the polls just yet. And beginning on Super Tuesday, the moderates vying for the nomination will have another contender to deal with: the well-funded dark horse Michael Bloomberg, who is climbing in national polls.
Klobuchar’s campaign might be on the rise. But a strong showing in New Hampshire won’t exactly leave her with a clear path to the nomination.