U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., made her debut on the presidential primary debate stage Wednesday night, battling nine of her primary challengers in an effort to stand out in the crowded pool of Democrats.
Viewers nationwide tuned in to watch the first debate of the primary season, which touched on a variety of topics ranging from health care to gun control to foreign policy. Ten more Democrats who qualified for the debates — including Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg and former Vice President Joe Biden — are set to face off Thursday.
Klobuchar entered Wednesday’s debate seeking a breakout moment. Since jumping into the race in February, the Minnesota senator has struggled to gain traction in the polls despite extensive campaigning across the country, particularly in early-voting states Iowa and New Hampshire.
As the two-hour debate came to a close, reviews of Klobuchar’s performance were mixed. The senator received kudos for several one-liners directed at President Trump, at times challenging her more liberal opponents. But it's unclear if Klobuchar was able to rise above the pack.
Here are some reactions from observers in Minnesota and across the country.
When Washington Gov. Jay Inslee touted his record in support of abortion rights, Klobuchar fired back in defense of the females on stage — her biggest applause line of the night, which Mother Jones described as “the perfect clapback.”
“I want to say there’s three women up here who have fought pretty hard for a woman’s right to choose,” she quipped.
The Minnesota senator also earned praise for her jabs at the president.
“I don’t think we should conduct foreign policy in our bathrobe at 5 o’clock in the morning,” Klobuchar said.
But some noticed Klobuchar appeared to pass on opportunities to distinguish herself from the multitude of Democratic contenders, most notably Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), the only candidate on Wednesday’s stage polling in double digits.
Dr. David Cram Helwich, a professor at the University of Minnesota who teaches debate and argumenatation, told WCCO that he thought Klobuchar "did fine," but she stumbled when asked what she has done to win over black and Latino voters.
On the morning talk shows Thursday, Klobuchar's digs at Inslee and Trump received the most attention. Pundit John Heileman said on "Morning Joe" he thought Klobuchar's performance earned high praise from women viewers, while men seem to be less enthusiastic. Later, the show's co-host Willie Geist said Klobuchar and Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio may have succeeded in reaching out to Democratic voters in the Midwest.
Klobuchar's efforts to market herself as the bipartisan candidate also seemed to have made an impression. "Fox and Friends" guests awarded the senator a "B" for her performance, among the highest scores they gave the candidates.
On CNN's "New Day," Inslee conceded that Klobuchar was "right" in her response to his comments on abortion.
So did Klobuchar manage to increase interest in her campaign among voters? Time will tell, though the early indicators suggest the senator has more work to do. Axios consulted Google Trends to see which candidate names were being searched the most during the debate and found Klobuchar tied for last place.