Sen. Amy Klobuchar waited until the final minutes of Wednesday night’s Democratic presidential debate to finally attack one of her rivals.
The Minnesota senator’s jab was aimed at Pete Buttigieg, the South Bend, Ind., mayor whose recent surge in polls has eclipsed Klobuchar’s more modest bounce.
“This is a good example of where he says the right words but I actually have the experience,” Klobuchar said after Buttigieg laid out his plan to protect and expand voting rights. Klobuchar went on to list election security measures she’s pushing in the U.S. Senate.
“Mayor, I have all appreciation for your good work as a local official,” Klobuchar said. “I have actually done this work. I think experience should matter.”
Buttigieg was ready with a response to his fellow Midwesterner.
“Washington experience is not the only experience that matters,” he said, mentioning his time in the military. “There’s over 100 years of Washington experience on this stage, and where are we as a country?”
Klobuchar took to the stage in Atlanta seeking to capitalize on the momentum of the last debate in October, when she enjoyed a breakout performance that helped boost her campaign fundraising and raise her national profile.
But as the race shuffled in recent weeks, Buttigieg catapulted to the front of the race as he reached out to the moderate and centrist Democrats who have been a focus of Klobuchar’s pitch.
While pundits expected Buttigieg to face heat from rivals, Klobuchar was first to mount a direct attack, and it came less than 15 minutes from the end of the more than two-hour debate.
Before that, Klobuchar vied for attention among 10 other candidates — landing a few laugh lines and mounting her argument that she will unite the country with achievable goals that independent and Republican voters can support.
“I’m not going to go for things that sound good on a bumper sticker and then throw in a free car,” Klobuchar said. “We have an obligation as a party to be fiscally responsible, even as we have people’s backs.”
At the top of the debate, Klobuchar declined to say if she was ready to vote in the Senate to remove President Donald Trump if the House impeaches him. “I believe our job as jurors is to look at every count and make a decision,” she said, though she did say Trump “committed impeachable offenses.”
Recent polls in Iowa and New Hampshire have Klobuchar in fifth place behind Buttigieg, Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, and former Vice President Joe Biden.
Before their sparring in Wednesday’s debate, Klobuchar had mildly criticized Buttigieg in a CNN interview in which she questioned his experience and said he had benefited from a double standard applied to women candidates. She was asked at the debate to explain.
“First, I’ve made it very clear I think Pete is qualified to be on this stage, and I’m honored to be standing next to him,” Klobuchar said. “But women are held to a different standard. Otherwise, we could play a game up here called name your favorite woman president.”
Klobuchar wrapped up that answer with a line she uses often on the campaign trail, and which got a big round of applause in the auditorium: “If you think a woman can’t beat Donald Trump, Nancy Pelosi does it every day.”
Patrick Condon • 202-662-7452