“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

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