The Minnesota senator finished third in New Hampshire last week, seeing her emerge as the dark horse for this year’s Democratic presidential nomination.
It’s not the first time a woman has been underestimated.
And it’s not the first time the public has got it wrong, either. Such was the case with Amy Klobuchar, the senator-cum-dark-horse-candidate who placed third in New Hampshire last week, outpacing both Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren, and trailing behind Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg.
A Yale and University of Chicago graduate, Klobuchar worked as a lawyer before moving into politics, joining the Senate in 2006.
You might know her from her memorable role in the confirmation hearings for supreme court justice Brett Kavanaugh in 2018, when she asked him if he had ever been blackout drunk. “I don’t know. Have you?” he replied, despite the fact that just minutes before, Klobuchar had revealed her father’s struggles with alcoholism. He later apologised after many deemed the comments to be insensitive and inappropriate.
Klobuchar, too, has had her fair share of controversy. For instance, she recently came under scrutiny for her role as a prosecutor on a case in which a black teenage boy was sentenced to life in prison based on flawed evidence. She was also accused of bullying by former staff members, with one aide alleging they were hit by a flying binder, The Guardian reports.
Still, her ‘Klobentum’ continues. According to Jezebel, the presidential candidate’s late surge in popularity has been largely fuelled by the allegiance of “college-educated white women”, many of whom have defected from Camp Warren.
And yet, gender and party affiliation aside, these two candidates have little in common. Where Warren is calling for bigger structural changes, Klobuchar adopts a more pragmatic approach: she thinks the “green new deal” – the proposed package aiming to address climate change and economic inequality helmed by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez – is too ambitious and expensive, and makes a similar argument about Medicare for All – the policy that would replace the health insurance industry with a publicly run scheme – which Sanders and Warren have backed.
On the other hand, Kobluchar has also made her stance clear on a number of issues that matter to women, from fair wages to reproductive rights (she is pro-choice). During her time in the Senate, Klobuchar rallied her colleagues to support a bill that made it easier to get treatment overnight if you have an eating disorder; she also championed one of the first laws in the country to grant new mothers and their babies 48-hour hospital stay; she was also the first presidential candidate to introduce a comprehensive mental health and addiction plan. In 1990, she wrote a letter to a newspaper editor to express her displeasure over how it covered female candidates.
Perhaps then, given Kobluchar and Warren’s appeal to a particular subset of the voting population, despite significantly different policy stances, can be chalked up to ideology. As Jezebel puts it: “There are people for whom the potential of a woman candidate rising in the polls is exciting, regardless of policy; and perhaps we saw this play out in New Hampshire.”
Klobuchar has gained popularity by playing to her strengths: her whip-smart and punchy debate, her experience (the three-term senator has yet to lose a race) and her age. In New Hampshire, Klobuchar attacked Buttigieg for his youth and experience, schooling him on the fact that: “59 – my age – is the new 38 up here”. She also criticised him saying he would rather watch cartoons than Donald Trump’s “exhausting” impeachment trial. “It is easy to go after Washington, because that’s the popular thing to do,” she told him during the debate. “It is much harder to lead, and much harder to take those difficult positions.” While Buttigieg was positioning himself as the “cool newcomer”, she continued, “I don’t think that’s what people want right now. We have a newcomer in the White House and look where it got us. I think having some experience is a good thing.”
With Warren’s numbers continuing to spiral, the million-dollar question now is: could Klobuchar clinch the Democratic nomination and become America’s first-ever female president?
The Guardian’s Lloyd Green writes that Klobuchar “has a lot of ground to make-up” to secure the presidential nomination over Sanders and Buttigieg, but having demonstrated her grit and staying power, she “could well be the new Democrat’s vice-presidential nominee”. So while her presidential future remains uncertain, it is certainly not a write-off.
After all, this wouldn’t be the first time she has been underestimated.