NASHUA, New Hampshire—As the two apparent winners of the Iowa caucuses quibbled over who narrowly edged the other out of the top slot, Amy Klobuchar was already eyeing the next state.
“Somehow, someway, I’m going to get on a plane tonight to New Hampshire,” the Minnesota senator said from her neighboring state last Monday night.
“We are bringing this ticket to New Hampshire.”
Now, just two days out from the primary, Klobuchar appears to be hitting several indicators of success here. After what aides contend was her strongest debate performance yet, the senator attracted her largest crowds of the primary cycle and enjoyed a cash bump that comes with it, $3 million in donations in 48 hours. And, as she touted at several stops in the southern part of the state on Sunday, she got a polling boost.
“We’ve gone up to No. 3!” Klobuchar said to raucous applause on a chilly afternoon in Nashua.
Indeed, Klobuchar has managed to turn what would ordinarily be an embarrassing showing for most candidates—finishing in fifth place in her neighboring state’s contest—into a rallying cry. And it appears to be working. As voters hundreds of miles away continue to ponder the caucuses that offered no decisive answer for the Democratic Party’s ideological direction—with former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) each declaring victory—some admitted to taking an eleventh-hour look at Klobuchar.
Addressing an overflowed middle school gymnasium whose green painted doors matched the circular “Amy” stickers handed out to attendees, Klobuchar effused about one newly released poll from Emerson College that placed her a hair above Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), for third place. Sanders and Buttigieg still led Klobuchar substantially, earning 30 percent and 20 percent of support, respectively, but her campaign largely sees upside.
Relegated to a polling asterisk for months, the senator’s heightened retailing across the state (“we went to four diners this morning” she said at one stop on Sunday, and “somehow ended up at a speakeasy” at another) has contributed to her status as a serious contender for a strong finish on Tuesday.
“I just did that to impress New Hampshire,” she joked in Nashua about launching her campaign exactly one year ago in the middle of a snowstorm in Minneapolis.
The parallel wasn’t perfect. But it didn’t seem to matter. With just a few flurries on the ground here, voters appeared to appreciate the sentiment, part of her dialed-up rhetoric that indicates a top New Hampshire showing is vital. At one point, live in front of millions of viewers during Friday night’s debate at Saint Anselm University, she appeared to court endorsements from the state’s two popular female senators, Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan, by praising them multiple times. “Her best debate of the eight,” an aide texted in reference to that moment.
With nearly half of voters still undecided, Klobuchar is also making an overt play for the largest bloc in New Hampshire: independents, who comprise 42 percent of the electorate.
“We better not screw this up,” Klobuchar said in Nashua. “I cannot think of a better state that gets this than New Hampshire, with your big tradition of independent voters,” she added, tweaking her stump speech to the state.
In a brief interview with The Daily Beast, Klobuchar further detailed her pitch to the consequential voting segment, listing off several parts of her candidacy that appeal uniquely to them, including “hooking our economy into the education system” and “expanding into things that they care about like long-term care, mental health, and addiction,” she said.
“Lots in her stump speaks to them,” one source directly familiar with Klobuchar’s thinking said about her strategy. “The fact that she pays for everything she proposes, like her opioid and mental health plan… it’s common sense, it’s practical, and the numbers add up.”
“New Hampshire independents like that kind of honest talk and fiscal clarity,” the source said.
That straight talk approach appeals to some voters eyeing Klobuchar now. “People in New Hampshire are very pragmatic. They don’t want their lives made worse by politicians,” Louise Eastman, a voter from Nashua, said. “They don’t want to be taxed to the point where they can’t even afford stuff. Certain candidates, and I won’t name names, are too liberal to the point where they scare people.”
The idea that some Democratic aspirants are “too liberal” and might alienate certain populations was picked up in interviews with a dozen New Hampshire voters across three cities. In that, the rationale for Klobuchar is easy: She’s decidedly more moderate than Sanders and Warren. In essence, her proposals are “workable things that she can get through the system,” Krishna Mangipudi, a Nashua Democratic voter, put it.
And then there’s her background. While some voters acknowledge qualities they like in Buttigieg, several contend his status as a national neophyte, the mayor of a medium-sized Midwestern city, is too much of a gamble against President Donald Trump. And most weren’t expecting former Vice President Joe Biden to decline so swiftly.
“She obviously has more experience than Pete, and Biden’s age is a little bit of a concern for me,” said Audrey Broyer, a Democratic voter from Merrimack.
Annette Ricci, a registered independent from Windham who leans conservative, agreed. “Biden, in my opinion, seems like a nice man but I don’t think he has it. It’s a little too late for him and he’s got too much baggage.”
A general reluctance to embrace Biden, whose campaign as the national frontrunner has leaned heavily on extending the Obama legacy, appears to be benefiting Klobuchar. After coming in fourth place in Iowa, the former VP all but conceded on the debate stage that he would not win the primary a week later, throwing the electability argument that he has built much of his candidacy around into question.
“I guess I don’t believe that,” Elizabeth Witmer, a Democratic voter from Merrimack, said about Biden’s contention that he is the best positioned to rival Trump. Witmer said she made up her mind to support Klobuchar on Sunday night.
While also using parts of the Obama-Biden accomplishments to her advantage on the trail, promising she’s “not going to blow up the Affordable Care Act,” for example, Klobuchar offers voters something different. While Biden recalls working to pass bipartisan legislation in years past, Klobuchar’s a sitting senator in the thick of the action, and one who was notably absent from the campaign trail, or, as she put it, “bolted to that desk” in Washington as a juror in Trump’s impeachment trial, which ended for Democrats in a disappointing acquittal.
Still, throughout the day, the president’s presence loomed large. At one point, Klobuchar evoked Mitt Romney, a household name in New Hampshire before he won the Republican presidential nomination in 2012, as a beacon of courage for being the sole GOP senator to vote to impeach Trump.
“There’s not one negative reaction,” Klobuchar told The Daily Beast about mentioning Romney’s name at her campaign rallies. “I actually think that is so cool about our democracy right now. That people get what courage and strength is.”
Political courage is factored into her thinking with voters, too. That is, if she can convince former Trump supporters to join her side, Democrats will have a greater path to victory in November.
“For some of them, that I acknowledge that they did or some of their friends might have either voted for Trump or stayed home,” Klobuchar told The Daily Beast. “It’s kind of like, OK, let’s step back and think about what a different world could be. And the decency issue is huge for them.”
Denise Marden, an independent from Hooksett, fits squarely into that camp. “She’s not Trump,” Marden said. “And I voted for Trump,” adding she’s now looking at Democratic contenders.
“I feel like Amy could be my friend.”