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Tensions ran high at Wednesday’s Democratic primary debate, as rivals hurled attack after attack in an attempt to win over voters before the next primaries and caucuses.

Some of those heated clashes were between Minnesota U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar and former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, two Midwestern moderates vying for the same swath of the electorate. But the exchange that evoked some of the strongest reaction from viewers here in Minnesota involved someone who wasn’t even on the stage.

“This is a race for president,” Buttigieg said to Klobuchar. “If winning a race for Senate in Minnesota translated directly to becoming president, I would have grown up under the presidency of Walter Mondale.”

The quip targeted Klobuchar’s argument that her wins in Minnesota translate to electability on a national map. Buttigieg had a point: Mondale, who represented the state in the U.S. Senate from 1964 to 1976 and served as vice president in the Carter administration, lost the 1984 presidential election to Republican Ronald Reagan in a landslide. Minnesota was the only state he won.

That didn’t stop Minnesotans on Twitter from rushing to Mondale’s defense. Backlash to the remark inspired hashtags, including #MNLovesMondale, and sent the former vice president’s name trending online.

“I hope we can all agree: Hands off Walter Mondale!” tweeted Secretary of State Steve Simon.

“Dear DFL Presidential Candidates: Do Not throw shade at following Minnesotans unless you want to enrage MN Twitter,” added former Senate GOP leader Amy Koch, listing Mondale along with Prince, Bob Dylan and others.

Some users argued that Mondale deserves respect for stepping in to run for the U.S. Senate after U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone died in a plane crash just days before the 2002 election. Others predicted that the remark could hurt Buttigieg’s chances when Minnesotans go to the polls on March 3.

“Pete don’t come for Walter Mondale,” tweeted Ryan Houlihan, a legislative aide to DFL Rep. Dean Phillips. “You just lost any chance in MN, boy bye.”

But local Buttigieg backers say the whole thing was overblown. One supporter noted that Mondale wasn’t the only local politician for whom election in the state “did not translate into a path to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.” “Sadly it’s another Super Bowl that no Minnesotan has won and the truth hurts but no shame on Buttigieg for pointing it out,” she wrote.

State Rep. Rick Hansen, who has endorsed Buttigieg, was at the Capitol as the debate got underway. He watched on his phone as reaction tweets filled his Twitter feed. Hansen is a longtime Mondale supporter — he cast his first presidential ballot for him in 1984 and carried legislation to name several places along the St. Croix River after the former vice president — but he, too, felt Buttigieg was stating the facts. Hansen, who attended an organizing event for local volunteers Saturday, doesn’t expect the quip to be a big factor.

“Walter Mondale is a great icon, we love Walter Mondale,” he said. “But Twitter is not reality.”

Torey Van Oot • 651-925-5049

Tuesday: Democratic presidential debate from Charleston, S.C., 7 p.m. Central time on CBS.

Saturday: South Carolina primary.