KEENE, N.H. – Sen. Amy Klobuchar showed signs of new momentum in New Hampshire on Monday, just hours before voting starts in the state’s Democratic presidential primary.
“I woke up this morning to find we are number three in this state,” Klobuchar said at her first rally of the day, where she drew about 500 people in the small city of Keene. “We’re doing everything we can, because we can feel this surge.”
Two New Hampshire polls released Sunday night showed Klobuchar inching ahead of Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and former Vice President Joe Biden, one of the national poll leaders. The primary is Tuesday.
But it’s unclear if it’s enough to help her break through into a top spot. She trails the leaders in national polls and fundraising, and finished fifth in last week’s chaotic Iowa caucuses, short of her hoped-for performance.
In recent polls by Emerson College and Suffolk University, both taken after Friday night’s debate in Manchester, Klobuchar trailed both Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg. Sanders has climbed in recent days to overtake Biden as the Democratic front-runner, while Buttigieg has emerged as the chief moderate alternative to Sanders.
For Klobuchar, a top-three finish in New Hampshire could suddenly put her in contention to win over centrists and independents who have gravitated toward Biden and now, to a greater extent, Buttigieg, who eked out a narrow top finish over Sanders in the disputed Iowa caucuses last week.
But any move up from her fifth-place finish in Iowa could give Klobuchar’s presidential bid new life. The Iowa Democratic Party announced Sunday that she earned just one pledged delegate after winning 12.3% of the vote.
With the focus now on New Hampshire, the Klobuchar campaign reported that she’s raised more than $3 million since the debate, where she put in an aggressive performance criticizing Buttigieg for his political inexperience and Sanders for being too far to the left to beat President Donald Trump.
The size of Klobuchar’s crowds has been growing. On Sunday, she drew more than 700 in Manchester and more than 1,000 in Nashua, the two biggest campaign crowds so far.
“This crowd is impressive. Her tracking polls overnight were good. She obviously performed well in the debate,” David Axelrod, the Democratic strategist who guided former President Barack Obama to two national victories, said at the Nashua rally in a school gymnasium. “We’ll know in two days the true scope of this surge, but she’s certainly making this interesting.”
Axelrod said the fluid Democratic race works in Klobuchar’s favor.
But he cautioned that even a strong finish here is no guarantee her campaign will take off as the race expands to Nevada, South Carolina and then the 14-state Super Tuesday contest on March 3, when Minnesotans will go to the polls.
“It’s just a question of whether she can rise enough to sustain this,” Axelrod said. “Can you get enough liftoff here to create momentum, create recognition and raise a lot more money?”
The last few days saw Klobuchar all over New Hampshire: at nine get-out-the-vote rallies, impromptu stops at restaurants and diners, speeches at candidate roundups and interviews on local and national TV and radio where she sought to connect with the state’s voters.
“You get to know a state, you get to see a state like this that’s so civic-minded, that will come out in a snowstorm like this,” Klobuchar said in Keene, where an early morning front had covered the region’s Green Mountains with a fresh coat of white.
She recalled that Monday was a year to the day since she announced her candidacy in a Minneapolis snowstorm.
“I have so, so loved getting around New Hampshire, because they know that it’s cool I announced in a blizzard, with 4 inches of snow on my head,” she said.
By now, Klobuchar’s standard speech is well practiced, usually running just over 30 minutes and shifting rapidly between personal anecdotes and family history. She mixes barbed critiques of Trump with her own policy prescriptions, and vows that she can unite the country and win backs Midwestern and Great Lakes states that Democrats lost in 2016.
“The idea is not to incite but to unite,” Klobuchar said in Keene. “And I can tell you that the three words in Donald Trump’s playbook are to divide and demoralize. Mine are to unite and lead.”
Klobuchar is quick with the quip, often using the same jokes before audience after audience.
But she also improvises: In Exeter on Monday afternoon, an overflow crowd filled a room above the main hall where Klobuchar was speaking, and loudly stomped their feet anytime she mentioned them — much to her amusement.
“Save me, overflow room!” she cracked after a heckler shouted out.
Klobuchar’s New Hampshire crowds are well-stocked with gray-haired, white baby boomers, though her big Sunday crowds showed a little more diversity. Interviews with potential voters found that many settled on her in the last few days or had narrowed their choices to her and one or two other candidates, often Buttigieg or Biden.
“I’m a strong woman. I come from a family of strong women. My friends are all strong women. I think Senator Klobuchar is a strong woman, and I do want to see a woman as president,” said Judy Gaynor Johnson, a retired teacher at Klobuchar’s Sunday rally in Manchester.
“I was waffling between her and Mayor Pete, but after the debate on Friday, I decided to vote for Amy. That was a strong performance that set her apart from the field,” said Evan Schuyler, a sophomore at Keene State College at the Monday morning stop.
Wrapping up in Exeter later Monday, Klobuchar’s plea was as direct as could be.
“Vote for me tomorrow,” she said. “If we do this right, you are going to, as usual, New Hampshire, surprise this country.”
Patrick Condon • 612-673-4413