DURHAM, N.H. – Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s future as a candidate for president now depends on a robust showing in Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary, and the Minnesota Democrat is dashing around the state this weekend as she fights to stay in the race.
“I think more than any other candidate, I need your vote,” Klobuchar said Saturday afternoon at a rally in Durham on the University of New Hampshire campus. About 450 people turned out to see her in the small city near the Maine border.
It was Klobuchar’s first of nine Granite State rallies scheduled over three days. After her fifth-place finish in Iowa last week, Klobuchar is once again trying to crack into the top four of her early-state competition: Sen. Bernie Sanders, former Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Elizabeth Warren and former Vice President Joe Biden.
“Call your friends, say I think she can do this. Call your friends, say I think you should support her,” Klobuchar told the crowd after a 35-minute stump speech stressing electability and political pragmatism.
Few expect Klobuchar to win New Hampshire. But she gave her chances a jolt Friday night with a well-regarded debate performance in Manchester — her campaign said she raised $2 million in the roughly 12 hours afterward — and a third- or fourth-place finish would mean a foothold going forward.
“I think she needs to do better than fifth place,” said Maria Cardona, a D.C.-based Democratic strategist who’s neutral in the race. It would set a pattern that would be hard to break in the next group of states, where she has little campaign infrastructure and visited far less than Iowa or New Hampshire.
Myriad complications and uncertainties with the Iowa caucuses count cast some uncertainty over the final results, but the Iowa Democratic Party says that Buttigieg very narrowly finished ahead of Sanders, followed by Warren, Biden and Klobuchar.
“I think she’d have more momentum if she’d been top three in Iowa,” said Jay Surdukowski, a Concord attorney and a New Hampshire Democratic activist. “But there’s a cloud over Iowa that seems to make it more of a jump ball here.”
New Hampshire polls in recent days have shown those five as the top contenders in the first primary state. “I think she’s still very much in the mix here,” said Surdukowski, who said he’s not sure how he’s going to vote on Tuesday but is still considering Klobuchar.
“She’s risen in the ranks for those of us who are not in favor of nominating Sanders or Warren,” he said.
Those two senators, from neighboring Vermont and Massachusetts, have been jostling for support from the party’s left flank. Klobuchar’s appeal has focused more toward moderate voters, vying for their support against Buttigieg and Biden.
The former vice president’s weak showing in Iowa precipitated a new round of concern about his durability in the race, which would seem to benefit Klobuchar. But Buttigieg’s apparent win in Iowa, even if narrow, is an obstacle in her path.
“It’s good for Senator Klobuchar if things continue to stay somewhat murky at the top of the field,” said Doug Thornell, a D.C.-based Democratic strategist who’s not backing a specific candidate. “Of course that depends on how [Klobuchar’s campaign] has husbanded their resources, how well they’ve planned and budgeted for the post-New Hampshire race.”
Already shifting to Nevada
Klobuchar’s campaign is shifting a big part of its Iowa team to Nevada, which holds its caucus on Feb. 22. The team has a handful of paid employees on the ground in South Carolina, where the primary is Feb. 29.
She has campaigned in some of the Super Tuesday states and has organizers at her Minneapolis headquarters assigned to those states. She lacks the nationwide organization of several of her leading rivals, though building up too fast in too many states created a financial burden on several Democrats who have since dropped from the race.
Thornell said he can envision New Hampshire scenarios that could give Klobuchar a healthy boost. Warren could finish poorly and end her campaign, leaving Klobuchar the leading female candidate. Buttigieg could do worse than expected, blunting his momentum and giving Klobuchar another shot at the “Midwestern moderate” lane.
Ahead of the Iowa caucuses, Klobuchar went after Buttigieg’s relative lack of experience. She went even harder at him in Manchester on Friday night, labeling him a “cool newcomer.”
“We have a newcomer in the White House, and look where it got us,” Klobuchar said at the debate.
The former mayor of South Bend, Ind., carried many of the Iowa counties that had been a focus for Klobuchar’s campaign: most of the northern Iowa counties that border Minnesota, and many around the state that supported both former President Barack Obama and President Donald Trump in consecutive presidential elections.
“The field needs to winnow, and I still think she’s second tier,” said Jerome Duval, a former Manchester alderman and longtime party activist who endorsed Buttigieg. He said a major calculation was choosing a candidate with a good chance of winning.
Duval said Klobuchar’s campaign did court his endorsement. “They kept calling and calling. They were relentless,” he said.
Klobuchar’s campaign, which opened seven field offices statewide, is not without establishment support in New Hampshire. Three of the top four leaders in the state House endorsed her, as have a handful of other legislators and elected officials, and three of the state’s largest daily newspapers, including the Union-Leader in Manchester, the largest city.
“I woke up this morning ready to go,” Klobuchar said Saturday in Durham. “We are going to barnstorm your state.” She reminded the crowd that the Senate impeachment trial kept her out of Iowa for much of its closing stretch: “The next four days, I am here.”
Patrick Condon • 612-673-4413