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“Keep an Eye on a ‘Darkhorse’ named Klobuchar” - "Sunday Political Brunch" February 16, 2020

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CHARLESTON, W. Va. – So much of the attention in the past two weeks focused on the voting fiasco in Iowa, and the inability to declare a clear-cut winner or frontrunner in the Democratic presidential nomination process. Then came New Hampshire, with another tight race, but also with a wild card waiting in the wings. Let’s “brunch” on that this week:

“Let’s Do the Numbers” – Last week Iowa was a mess and uncertain. But let’s review the final numbers. Pete Buttigieg won by a hair at 26.2 percent of the vote to 26.1 for Bernie Sanders. Elizabeth Warren had 18 percent, and Joe Biden was fourth at 15.8 percent. Coming in at fifth place was neighboring Senator Amy Klobuchar (D) Minnesota at 12.3 percent.

“Who Won Round Two?” – Just eight days later in New Hampshire, here are the results of the first in the nation primary: Sanders 25.7 percent, Buttigieg 24.4, Klobuchar 19.8 percent, Elizabeth Warren 9.2 percent, and Joe Biden 8.4 percent. At first blush, this may look like a Sanders v. Buttigieg faceoff, with a virtual tie between those two men in the two leading “first in the nation” bellwethers.

“Dig Deep and Watch Trends” – The simplest analysis of the first two contests would focus at the top of he ballot, which could be a huge mistake. I have been touting her strength for months, so I again urge you to keep an eye on Senator Klobuchar. She is one of the few centrist-moderate Democrats in this race. She’s the kind of candidate that many Democrats could back nationally, who might have wide appeal among independent voters, and even moderate-to-liberal leaning Republicans. Look, 12.3 percent in Iowa, and just shy of 20 percent in New Hampshire means she polls well in a crowded field.

“The Likeability Factor” – Klobuchar showed a range of emotions and vibes in the New Hampshire debate last Friday. She was detailed, passionate, charming, folksy, funny, kind, tough, thoughtful, reflective, informed, and, at times, vulnerable. She came off as a human being people can relate to, and not some auto-matron, rehearsed, soundbite spitting candidate. Maybe I’m prejudiced, since I grew up in neighboring Wisconsin, but she has that folksy midwestern charm that put her Minnesota mentors Hubert Humphrey and Walter Mondale in the vice-president’s office, a heartbeat from the White House. She’s the real deal.

“Debates Matter” – I’ve been covering politics for 43 years, so I hope I come to this with some degree of expertise and authority. Many (including me), believe Klobuchar won the Friday night debate in New Hampshire, hands down. It wasn’t even close. A CNN exit poll in New Hampshire said that 30 percent of voters believed she won the Friday debate and that made them pull the lever for Klobuchar. As my friend and colleague, Professor Valerie Endress at Rhode Island College tweeted from New Hampshire, (Klobuchar showed that) "debates can matter!”

“The Blowback” – It’s fascinating, but I have had some criticism from my “Klobuchar obsession.” I keep suggesting in my columns and on social media that she is the obvious vice-presidential nominee, who would pair well with many of the front-runners. “You say Vice President, but why not President?” inquired one reader. Look, I call it a possibility, not a probability, in terms of whether Klobuchar could top the ticket. Clearly, she is qualified, as a three-term Senator, a two-term county prosecutor, and as a well-educated corporate lawyer. I consider her my “Darkhorse” for the top of the ticket since the current leaders clearly have the edge of fundraising and organization that Klobuchar has yet to come close to matching. But I do not rule her out for the top spot.

“What’s Ahead?” – The Nevada Caucuses are next Saturday February 22, and the South Carolina Primary is the following Saturday, February 29. The Real Clear Politics composite polls have these a Biden-Sanders race, with upstart businessman Tom Steyer in third. Biden needs a big comeback vote in both states, or he could be done. Michael Bloomberg is now polling third nationally (though I keep saying national pools don’t matter), but he has a bottomless wallet. If Sanders wins either of these, or even polls a strong second, he must be considered the frontrunner by performing at, or near the top, in the first four states.

“Super Tuesday Surprise?” – Super Tuesday has been a dud for decades and did not have the relevance it once did. This year that is likely to change in a big way. 14 states and a few U.S. territories vote on March 3rd, with fully one-third of the convention delegates to be selected. This will be a make or break momentum day for many candidates. California and Texas are the big prizes, and Bernie Sanders leads both by solid margins. But Bloomberg and Steyer and their money are out there and could be spoilers, or at least devise, or decisive factors.

“Who to Watch on Super Tuesday?” – Aside from Texas and California the following states are voting: Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Democrats Abroad, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, and Virginia. Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and Amy Klobuchar all have “home state” primaries that each must win. If Biden wins in South Carolina on the heels of the African American vote, can that same strategy carry him to victory in Alabama, Arkansas, North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia? More than anyone he needs a BIG day on Super Tuesday, or he’s likely toast.

Have your allegiances switched after Iowa and New Hampshire? Will you consider a sudden Bloomberg or Steyer surge? Just click the comment button to let us know!

Mark Curtis, Ed.D., is Chief Political Reporter for the five Nexstar Media TV stations serving West Virginia, its five neighboring states and most of the Washington, D.C. media market. He is a National Contributing Political Writer for the White House Patch at www.Patch.com

© 2020 MarkCurtisMedia, LLC

Photo courtesy: Getty Images

“A Political ‘Triple Play’ Like No Other” -- Sunday Political Brunch February 9, 2020

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CHARLESTON, W. Va. – Has this nation ever had a political week like this? In the course of three days we’ve had a State of the Union Address, a presidential impeachment verdict, and an Iowa Caucus vote go off the rails. It’s my 43rd year covering politics, and – for better, or for worse - this is why I love it so much. We have a buffet of politics to “brunch” on this week.

“The Raucous Iowa Caucus” – This decade’s winner of the “Florida Hanging Chad Award” goes to the Iowa Democratic Caucus. Like a kid on Christmas Eve, I waited up all night Monday for Santa to come down my chimney with the vote totals, but Santa never showed up. The precinct captains were supposed to send caucus tallies via a cell phone app to the party office, but the thing went haywire. I’m writing as of Thursday night and we’re now up to 99 percent of the results being reported.

“So, Who Wins & Loses” – With 99 percent of the vote counted former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg is in the lead with 26.2 percent, to Senator Bernie Sanders (I) Vermont on his heals at 26.1 percent. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D) Massachusetts, is at 18 percent, and former Vice President Joe Biden has 15.8 percent. Coming in fifth, Senator Amy Klobuchar (D) Minnesota, had a respectable 12.3 percent. In terms of convention delegates, Buttigieg and Sanders each won 11, with 5 for Warren. No one else took delegates.

“Why the Delay Matters” – A well-known and successful political operative told me on background this week, “It’s a nightmare for a campaign. No one leaves Iowa with any victory momentum. No one gets to give a victory speech in Des Moines and carries that momentum onto New Hampshire.” It’s very anti-climactic. In short, it was a disaster for the party and the individual campaigns. It may, in a round-about way, help Trump.

“The Nation’s Capital Becomes Junior High” – After Monday’s debacle in Iowa, we moved to the annual State of the Union Address on Capitol Hill. What a sight to behold! President Trump seemingly ignores the outstretched handshake from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi at the start, and then Speaker Pelosi tears up her copy of the president’s speech on live TV at the end. While I love politics, this is why so many Americans outside of the beltway detest it. They find it juvenile and petty, and wonder why significant legislation is the exception, not the rule. And people are bewildered when elections only have a 40 percent turnout, if that? I’m one of seven kids and know the dynamics well. I fully expect the “He/she started it,” blame game to begin soon.

“Channeling Ronald Reagan” – The ugliness aside, there were some other fascinating moments from the State of the Union. President Ronald Reagan began the trend of inviting and introducing heroic people, often sitting with the first lady. It was Reagan’s theatrical genius (and his genuine love for authentic American heroes), that every president since has copied. Who doesn’t love a 103-year-old Tuskegee Airman? In marketing, they call it “product placement,” and whether you like Trump or not, he did it exceedingly well.

“The Strategy” – This always puts the minority or opposing party in a bad light. Reagan knew this better than anyone. He knows his own party will cheer, applaud and stand up for every accomplishment he claims. But the opposing party will sit on their hands, stone-faced, with no applause. The problem for the opposition becomes when the president says, “I love puppies! Puppies are the best!” Of course, they don’t applaud or stand, because they disagree with his overarching policies and behaviors, but to a lot of viewers it looks like, “Wow, Democrats don’t like puppies!” Yes, it’s grossly unfair and hugely manipulative, but there were times Tuesday night where Trump made Democrats look disloyal, and unsupportive. Reagan did this very well, but so did Bill Clinton. Trump just stole a page from their political playbooks.

“SOTU 2020 as the Campaign Kick-off” – The State of the Union is a lot of things. First, and foremost, it’s an American “cheerleading” tradition. The tag line is, “We’re the BEST” when the president traditionally says, “The state of our union is strong!” But the SOTU is also a policy speech where you might spell out your legislative roadmap and initiatives for the year ahead (Trump was a little thin on details here). But the third leg of the “political barstool,” is that it’s also a political speech. If you read between the lines and the bragging of accomplishments on Tuesday night, President Trump was saying, “I’ve done a good job, re-elect me!” It was very much the campaign kick-off address for 2020.

“Impeachment Redux” – By Wednesday we had the third significant event in our “political hattrick” for the week. To no one’s surprise the president was acquitted in his impeachment trial and will not be removed from office. It was a straight party line vote with one exception. Senator Mitt Romney (R) Utah, voted to remove the president on Article I of impeachment, but not on Article II. He was the only person in either caucus to deviate – albeit only once – from the party line. The bottom line, Republicans are quick to proclaim Trump’s acquittal, while Democrats take the tact that “not guilty” does not equate to a “innocent.” This will be a central campaign issue in 2020.

What are your thoughts? Does the impeachment result, the Iowa vote count, or the State of the Union change your vote? Just click comment button!

Mark Curtis, Ed.D., is Chief Political Reporter for the five Nexstar Media TV stations serving West Virginia, its five neighboring states and most of the Washington, D.C. media market. He is a National Contributing Political Writer for, “The White House Patch” at www.Patch.com.

© 2020, Mark Curtis Media, LLC.

Photo courtesy: Getty Images

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