CONCORD, N.H. – Minnesota U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar rocketed to a strong finish in New Hampshire’s Democratic primary Tuesday, revitalizing her prospects as the presidential contest moves into an intensive new phase.
With 90% of precincts reporting, Klobuchar was in third place, trailing only former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who was in first place.
“We love you, New Hampshire,” Klobuchar told cheering supporters as the votes were tallied, surprising many observers. “Hello, America. I’m Amy Klobuchar and I will beat Donald Trump. … We have beaten the odds every step of the way.”
After languishing most of last year in low single digits in early-state and national polls, and landing in fifth place in Iowa despite a heavy investment in the state, Klobuchar shot into contention over the weekend in a show of resilience just ahead of a potential make-or-break contest. “We redefined the word grit,” she said.
Following a scrappy debate performance Friday night, she saw her fundraising shoot up and crowds balloon as voters gave her a second look.
“That last debate finalized it for me. I just like how she talks to people and connects; she doesn’t go to one extreme or the other,” Karen Lewis, 53, of Concord, said Tuesday after voting for Klobuchar.
She said she hadn’t even heard of Klobuchar a few months ago.
“We’ve been working really hard,” said Scott Merrick, a former state representative who is Klobuchar’s New Hampshire state director. Merrick was working the room at Klobuchar’s primary-night party at a hotel ballroom in Concord, the state capital. “We focused on rural, urban and suburban areas, and we feel like we left no stone unturned.”
Supporters streamed into the ballroom after polls closed, and a cheer rose as a new batch of returns showed Klobuchar had moved closer to Buttigieg.
The two Midwestern moderates, increasingly competing for the same voters, were not far behind Sanders.
Meanwhile, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and former Vice President Joe Biden were running a distant fourth and fifth.
At her own primary-night event, Warren congratulated “my friend and colleague Amy Klobuchar for showing how wrong the pundits can be when they count a woman out.”
Signs of an engaged Klobuchar operation were easy to find Tuesday in Concord. Volunteers waving green and blue “Amy for America” and “Amy for New Hampshire” signs were on street corners and at polling sites.
“You could just tell the last couple days that the momentum was building for her,” said Candace Bouchard, a Concord City Council member holding a Klobuchar sign at a voting site. “I think she’s going to be very, very happy with what New Hampshire does for her.”
New Hampshire has a history of favoring centrist candidates of both parties.
Center-leaning candidates such as Bill Clinton and John McCain were boosted by New Hampshire in past presidential cycles.
But Klobuchar’s path forward in her party’s race is complicated by competition in the moderate lane from Buttigieg, Biden and former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg.
And with Warren’s prospects looking less certain, Sanders is in a position to button up the left while the centrists skirmish.
Bloomberg was not on the New Hampshire ballot. But he’s spending millions of dollars of his own money to make himself a factor in the contest, and he has been rising in national polls.
In an appearance Tuesday morning on “The View,” Klobuchar took a shot at Bloomberg.
“I don’t think people look at the guy in the White House and say, ‘Oh, I want someone richer,’ ” she said.
Klobuchar’s success in New Hampshire is certain to bring more scrutiny of her background as she tilts into the top tier of candidates.
On “The View,” co-host Sunny Hostin aggressively questioned the former Hennepin County attorney about her office’s prosecution of Myon Burrell, now in prison in Minnesota for the late-1990s murder of an 11-year-old girl.
A recent Associated Press investigation has raised questions about the case.
“It must be reviewed,” Klobuchar said. “Sunny, I think you know I care so much about justice, and this case must be reviewed.”
The next two states to vote are Nevada, on Feb. 22, and South Carolina, on Feb. 29.
The Klobuchar campaign announced that it was launching a seven-figure ad buy to begin Wednesday morning in the Las Vegas and Reno TV markets.