Joe Biden’s chances of becoming president took a big hit with his fifth place finish in New Hampshire. At that moment, Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s chances were revived.
The candidate who could, but didn’t until now, Klobuchar finished a strong third, crowding the boys in the moderate lane and staking out her claim as the pragmatic Democrat with a knack the others lack of winning big in Trump strongholds and getting things done.
The “unity” candidate with “grit,” New Hampshire’s latest Comeback Kid, she began her speech Tuesday night by reintroducing herself. “Hello, America, I’m Amy Klobuchar and I will beat Donald Trump," she said when the music cranked down, the only thing that matters. "My heart is full tonight."
Her late surge came after a smashing performance at last week’s debate, where the author of The Senator Next Door: A Memoir From the Heartland finally defined herself. She gave a shout-out to Republican Mitt Romney and took direct hits at the two frontrunners. Yes, she’s concerned about socialist Bernie Sanders atop the ticket. And she hit it out of St. Anselm’s auditorium when she chided the ex-mayor of South Bend for his youth and inexperience. She ticked off her accomplishments as a prosecutor, a campaigner, and a senator with a hundred bills to her credit (take that Bernie).
The best was how she closed, recalling a man crying as FDR’s funeral cortege passed by and telling a reporter that he hadn’t known the president but the president knew him. She took off from there: “If you have trouble stretching your paycheck to pay for your rent… figuring out if you're going to fill your refrigerator or fill your prescription drugs, I know you and I will fight for you.” She concluded: “If you are tired of the extremes in our politics, of the noise and the nonsense, you have a home with me.”
So much for the idea that debates don’t matter.
Klobuchar’s third place looks bigger given that Sanders barely beat out Pete Buttigieig, and was below 30 percent as the last votes came in Tuesday night as compared to the 60 percent the Vermont senator collected here in 2016. She’s 59 to his 79, with two stents put into his heart during the campaign. He frightens those who don’t want to surrender their private health insurance for some dream of Medicare For All.
Buttigieig finished a few points ahead of Klobuchar, with the two of them combining for nearly twice Sanders’ total, but that’s not how elections work. The 38-year-old former mayor is a Ted talk you could listen to forever but he has no South Bend miracle to tout and no resolution of the problems created by a mostly white police department in a black inner city. He boasts of winning reelection by 80 percent, but garnering 8,000 votes out of 10,000 cast running against a woman who made jewelry in her basement is not that impressive.
Mayor Pete looks like he’s headed to a big defeat in South Carolina, with a population that looks more like America. He’ll also soon be up against another mayor, Mike Bloomberg, who led the largest city in the country, weighed in at 15 percent in the latest Quinnipiac poll, and has unlimited money to spend as the contest moves to large states on Super Tuesday. Forget coffee shops and overheated living rooms. In California, two people in front of a TV set watching very expensive ads substitutes for a campaign rally. It will help to be a billionaire.
As for Elizabeth Warren in fourth place, she could have been somebody but soared too close to Bernie’s sun. When she modified her Medicare for All plan (Sanders never fully describes his), she lost altitude with purists. Bernie broke their pact and ran negative robo-calls against her. Their spat over whether he told her a woman couldn’t be president redounded to her detriment. It reminded people she was of the sex that’s never sat behind the Resolute Desk. In her speech, she complimented Klobuchar for not taking money from super Pacs and for “showing just how wrong the pundits can be when they count a woman out.”
As for Biden, he goes on, by turns angry, frustrated, and, friends say, grieving over his sole surviving son whom Republicans keep trying to put on trial instead of Trump. Biden got out of Dodge before the polls closed to land in South Carolina where he repeated that the real campaign, which he’ll win, begins.
We’ll know soon enough if that is a pipe dream akin to that of Rudy Giuliani in 2008 who led in the polls based on, Biden joked back then, stringing together “a noun, a verb, and 9/11.” Rudy ignored the early contests to compete in the friendlier state of Florida. Instead, like so many New Yorkers before him, he went to the Sunshine State to die, coming in an embarrassing third. He’s now only employable as Trump’s private attorney and henchman.
Biden should not meet the fate Giuliani did in Florida. Let there be lines of voters waiting in the rain for him, the too-big rooms of New Hampshire too small in Charleston for all those wanting to shake his hand, if only for old time’s sake. Let him have another chance to remind us, and our allies, what human decency and good sense look like. The campaign is young. He’s outlasted tragedy, he always gets up. Maybe he’ll yet be the one to deliver us from the one that is Trump.
If he falls short, Klobuchar showed last night she’s there to pick up the mantle.