It was the night Amy Klobuchar has been dreaming of for all of 2019. Whether it was the smaller debate stage, or a candidate finally finding her groove, the stars all seemed to align. Amy Klobuchar won the debate.
She came across as very comfortable and likable. She had the second biggest amount of time, after Bernie Sanders. She nearly won the clock. She has experience, but these debates exercise a different muscle. Maybe it took her a while to acclimate to these debates. That could be fortuitous, if she is peaking at the right moment.
I hesitate to talk too much about her smile and likability, for fear of being accused of sexism, but I think this is a big challenge for a lot of female candidates who want to appear tough and experienced. She probably did the best job of balancing all of these things that I have ever seen.
On Trump’s impeachment, she urged, “Let me make the case to the American people. As a wise judge said, ‘The president is not king in America. The law is king.”
On NATO members mocking Trump, she suggested the more telling part was his response: "Yeah, they were making fun of him, some of the world leaders,” she said. “The point of it was that he couldn’t even tolerate it. He is so thin-skinned that he walked.”
“He quit. America doesn’t quit,” she said.
On climate change, she said, “There’s an Ojibwe saying that great leaders make decisions not for this generation but seven generations from now. This president doesn’t keep his decisions for seven minutes.”
Regarding her Midwestern roots, she quipped, “It’s not flyover country to me. I live there.”
Frequently flashing a wide smile, even as she threw sharp elbows, Klobuchar struck the perfect balance between “Minnesota nice” and tough-as-nails debater—between “hot dish” Midwestern mom and the moderate Plan B for Democrats should Joe Biden falter.
Standing in Klobuchar’s way, of course, is Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
Not surprisingly, the two clashed on Thursday.
In a spat over experience, Buttigieg boasted that he won re-election with “80 percent of the vote as a gay dude in Mike Pence’s Indiana.”
Unfazed, Klobuchar shot back, pointing out that Buttigieg lost a state treasurer race “by 20 points.”
Buttigieg held his own, but the clash favored Klobuchar, whose experience is clearly superior.
With Kamala Harris off the stage and not missed, it was the kind of performance that could help propel Klobuchar in Iowa, and/or—should Biden go on to win the nomination—put her on the short-list to be tapped as a potential running mate.
Speaking of Biden, he certainly didn’t do anything that would knock him off his perch as the frontrunner.
Too often during this campaign, his stammering answers have raised eyebrows. Thursday night, however, Biden demonstrated clarity and energy, delivering what was probably his best line of his campaign: "If anyone has reason to be angry with the Republicans and not want to cooperate it's me,” he said. “The way they've attacked me, my son, my family. I have no love. But the fact is we have to be able to get things done, and when we can't convince them, we go out and beat them."
A commitment to working across the aisle is not likely to inspire the chattering classes, but one suspects it’s more popular with the kinds of voters who want the return to normalcy that a Biden presidency represents. Still, the notion that if he can’t convince them, he’ll beat them, also demonstrates Biden’s ability to be seen as a scrappy fighter, should he need to be.
But the big story, in my estimation, is that Klobuchar finally showed up. If this performance translates into a poll surge—and that’s never a guarantee, but it sure seems possible—Klobuchar could be finding her mojo just at the right time.
She heads into the holiday season—potentially into 2020—on the heels of what was, by far, the best debate of her campaign.
What a turnaround for a candidate who began 2019 plagued by stories of her mistreating staffers, and the vivid imagery of her eating a salad with a hair comb, and ends the year on an upswing.
It might not seem like it, but Iowa will be here before you know it.
In politics, timing is everything. For Klobuchar, it seems, time might have been on her side.