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U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar is a political marvel. At a time when the state and nation are riven by a near 50-50 partisan split, DFLer Klobuchar's popularity has soared. As other election contests tightened in recent weeks, her lead over GOP challenger Kurt Bills widened to 28 percentage points in the latest statewide poll (Survey USA/KSTP, released Oct. 15).

The Star Tribune Editorial Board concurs with what those poll results say: Klobuchar has represented Minnesota very well. She has our endorsement for a second term.

She also has our encouragement to make her second term count for even more.

For all her first-term achievements, Klobuchar has not made her voice widely heard on the country's most vexing problems -- the national debt, economic revitalization, health care, energy independence and immigration among them. She voices strong and considered opinions on those topics when asked, and is at work on several of them, largely behind the scenes.

She can and should be more vocal and visible. Few Democratic lawmakers are likely to arrive in Washington after the Nov. 6 election with more political capital in their home-state accounts. We hope she's of a mind to do some spending.

Klobuchar focused like a laser on Minnesota's interests in her first term, demonstrating considerable lawmaking ability. She brought the long-running St. Croix River bridge controversy to resolution, landed full federal funding to replace the collapsed Interstate 35W bridge, passed significant consumer product safety measures and secured the benefits promised to Minnesota's Red Bull National Guard veterans.

She's been a champion of Minnesota businesses, from community banks to auto dealers to medical device and snowmobile manufacturers. She built a crackerjack constituent-services operation, one that passed a hard test in the first half of 2009, when she was Minnesota's only senator. Many Minnesotans who have worked with her commend her diligence, tenacity and hard work.

That record deserves applause. It's also a worthy prelude to bigger things.

It will take creativity and consensus-building know-how to control the federal debt and modernize the tax code. It will take pragmatism, bipartisanship and pro-business sensibilities to update immigration laws and keep health care reform on track. It will take sensitivity to institutional history and well-tended personal relationships to bring Senate rules into the 21st century.

Klobuchar possesses all of those traits, plus the temperament and judgment to make sound decisions under pressure. And in the first of only two U.S. Senate candidates' debates to date, we saw one thing more -- outspoken feistiness in defense of her positions. When used judiciously, rhetorical spunk is also a useful lawmaking tool.

Minnesotans might have seen more of that last trait from Klobuchar this fall if the GOP had sent a more formidable challenger onto the Senate field. Instead it opted for first-term state Rep. Kurt Bills, a social-studies teacher and wrestling coach from Rosemount High School. Bills is a Ron Paul fan whose circa-19th-century economic views won favor at the state GOP convention but have found little support among other Minnesotans.

Bills complains about media neglect. Yet he declined an invitation to meet with the Editorial Board. His unwillingness to spend an hour explaining his positions and critiquing Klobuchar with journalists at the state's largest news organization should be both revealing and troubling to voters.

In politics as in other enterprises, competition is healthy. Bills and his backers are giving Klobuchar too little of it. The result is the sleepiest Senate contest this state has witnessed in 40 years. That's a tacit tribute to Klobuchar's talent. But it's also a lost opportunity for her skills to be tested and, in the process, strengthened.

Klobuchar could choose to interpret her popularity as an affirmation of her Minnesota-focused approach to Senate service. We hope she is hearing something more as she stumps the state. Many Minnesotans recall with pride the years in which this state's U.S. senators were leaders on the national and world stage, forging new paths for peace, justice and prosperity. Some of the emotion that will accompany this week's 10th anniversary of Paul Wellstone's death will be regret that he died just when he seemed on the verge of stepping onto a larger stage.

Now it's Klobuchar's turn. She looks similarly poised for a more significant role in national affairs. She should see a strong Minnesota sendoff into a second term as her license to aim for larger service to this nation.


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