A few hours after Sen. Amy Klobuchar joined the Democratic presidential race, Our Revolution Minnesota endorsed Sen. Bernie Sanders. A day earlier, the national Progressive Change Campaign Committee said it’s backing Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
The moves underscored a key question for the Minnesota senator’s White House campaign: Is she progressive enough to win the nomination at a time when the party’s most liberal wing is ascendant?
“Her voting record is safe. It’s very centrist and that’s just not what we’re about,” said Anita Seeling of Minnetonka, vice chair of Our Revolution Minnesota’s board. “We need somebody that’s a champion.”
Erik Hatlestad, an organizer for Democratic Socialists of America and a member of the City Council in New London, Minn., praised Klobuchar’s support for the Green New Deal initiative. It calls for cutting greenhouse gas emissions to net zero in a decade.
“However, we’re rather concerned that her commitment to other bold and popular ideas isn’t across the board,” Hatlestad said. She hasn’t said she supports a plan known as Medicare for All that would provide universal health insurance, he noted.
“I hate to use the words ‘litmus test,’ but that’s the prime issue that will determine who progressives support,” said Shawn Olson of Alexandria, Minn. He volunteered on Klobuchar’s 2012 campaign, ran for state Senate in 2016 and works with Organizing for Bernie-Draft Bernie. “Minimum wage is another huge issue.”
Klobuchar supports a $15 minimum wage but hasn’t embraced other progressive priorities, including tuition-free college. She hasn’t endorsed calls to abolish Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Our Revolution is a national offshoot of Sanders’ 2016 campaign. The Minnesota group has several local chapters and a membership base of about 9,000, Seeling said.
Winners endorsed by the group in last year’s elections included Attorney General Keith Ellison, U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar and Hennepin County Commissioner Angela Conley.
The Progressive Change Campaign Committee has almost 1 million members nationwide. Co-founder Adam Green called Klobuchar “a perfectly fine Democrat.” But Warren would be a transformational president who would “tap into the desire for real change,” he said.
Sanders, a Vermont independent who calls himself a socialist, has not said whether he’s running in 2020. He was a potent force in Minnesota in 2016, beating Hillary Clinton in the caucuses, 62 to 38 percent.
The flip side of the question about Klobuchar’s fealty to progressive issues is whether a nominee from the Democratic Party’s left wing could win a presidential election.
Sanders did not win the 2016 nomination. Progressive Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez won a U.S. House seat in New York last year, but Beto O’Rourke lost his U.S. Senate race in Texas. Democrats Stacey Abrams and Andrew Gillum lost gubernatorial races in Georgia and Florida. Klobuchar easily won a third term.
Kevin Chavis of Minneapolis, who chairs Our Revolution Twin Cities, liked Klobuchar’s speech on Sunday and its emphasis on inequality, drug prices, data privacy, gun laws and ending divisiveness.
“She tries to find popular policies that are not too controversial,” he said. “I just don’t know if that’s going to work this time.”
Our Revolution Twin Cities hasn’t endorsed a presidential candidate, Chavis said.
Some Minnesotans who backed Sanders or were on his campaign’s payroll in 2016 share his doubts.
“In Minnesota, most of the progressives know she’s not extremely progressive,” though many of the state’s residents will be inclined to support Klobuchar, said Colleen Nocerini of Eagan. She worked for Sanders in Minnesota and five other states in 2016.
Nocerini, who has a background in labor, said she’s wary of Klobuchar’s previous contributions from mining interests and wishes the senator had worked harder on the environment and health care.
Klobuchar said she won’t accept corporate PAC or federal lobbyist donations for her presidential campaign.
“Bernie certainly moved the needle in increasing public awareness of income equality, the urgency to move to clean energy, and the disaster that is Citizens United [campaign-finance case],” said Rita Koll of Our Revolution in Alexandria, Minn. “While I have tremendous respect for Amy, I have not heard nearly enough from her on these vital concerns.”
Jake Sanders of Glenwood, Minn., worked for Sanders in five states during the last presidential campaign and would support him if he decides to run again.
Still, Jake Sanders said, “I think that any sensible person is going to take a look at every single candidate.”
Democrats, he said, must expand their appeal, not narrow it, to have a chance to beat President Donald Trump.
Olson said that while they await a decision from the Vermont senator, some of his fans have shifted their support to Warren or U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii. Klobuchar, he said, “hasn’t really perked their interest too much.”
Public health expert Fartun Weli of Minneapolis, founder of Isuroon, a nonprofit group that works with Somali women, has a different perspective. She considers herself progressive and supported Sanders in 2016 but worries about those who are “so loud and so divisive.”
Her ideal nominee, she said, would have “that same people quality as Bernie,” but she’d prefer “a younger, mixed male and female ticket.” To win, candidates must have appeal in rural parts of the state and pledge to ensure that “nobody is left behind,” Weli said.
It would be a mistake, she said, for Democrats not to talk to one another because they’re “in love so much for this candidate that [they’re] willing to burn bridges with another.”