ELY, NEV. – Sen. Amy Klobuchar returned to Minnesota on Saturday to regroup as voters started caucusing in Nevada, a state where she was not expected to be competitive with the leaders in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Trailing in early results, Klobuchar told supporters in Las Vegas and Minneapolis that she was focused on the critical March 3 Super Tuesday contests, which will include Minnesota and 14 other states and territories and award more than half of the delegates needed to head the party’s fall ballot.
Speaking to reporters before leaving Nevada, Klobuchar said she had deployed staff “quickly here as well as other places” after the contests in Iowa and New Hampshire, which boosted her hopes of breaking into the top tier of contenders.
“We knew we also wanted to not put everything here because we have all these Super Tuesday states” on the horizon, she said.
While Klobuchar faced steep odds in Nevada, her caucus strategy mirrored that of the previous states where she focused on rural, small-town precincts where she might pick up support from moderate Democrats, independents, and even former supporters of President Donald Trump.
With the next primary on Saturday in South Carolina, a state with a large black electorate, Klobuchar planned to travel instead on Sunday to North Dakota and the Super Tuesday states of Arkansas and Oklahoma, where she is more likely to win delegates.
As the votes were being counted in Nevada, Klobuchar rallied with supporters at her national headquarters in northeast Minneapolis before attending a fundraiser across town to replenish her campaign coffers.
“As usual, I think we have exceeded expectations,” Klobuchar said, vowing to go on to South Carolina and Super Tuesday. “A lot of people didn’t think I’d be standing at this point.”
Elizabeth Weilandgruber, a 44-year-old teacher from Minneapolis, said she’s “still optimistic” about the senator’s prospects, despite the disappointing finish in Nevada. “I think the more people get to know her and hear what she has to say and what she can represent, the more people are going to realize what a great candidate she is,” she said. “I really believe she could take on Trump, and that’s priority number one.”
In an interview, Klobuchar emphasized her campaign’s recent strides. “We were at very little support even a month ago,” she said. “So we’ve been going up slowly but surely and our real focus right now is on Super Tuesday and of course South Carolina. We always knew when we had that surge in New Hampshire and got a lot of money only two weeks ago, we were not as well known in Nevada, but we feel good we got a significant percentage of the vote.”
Her strong showing in New Hampshire helped raise more than $12 million, but the race has gone nationwide, forcing her to scale up her staff and volunteer presence from coast to coast.
Voters’ lack of familiarity with Klobuchar was evident in some parts of Nevada. At a caucus in Ely, in the desolate, northeastern part of the state, Sanders supporters seemed to predominate.
Amber Purinton Lani showed up to caucus for Sanders and admitted she didn’t know much about Klobuchar, who had to play catch-up to other candidates campaigning in Nevada after spending most of her time and resources on Iowa and New Hampshire.
“She’s cool, too. I like a lot of the things she has to say,” said Purinton Lani. “Honestly, I like a lot of the candidates because our country is going to hell in a handbasket and we need a change, but I agree with Bernie on basically everything he says.”
Ely is the largest town for more than 60 miles in all directions, and some voters drove more than an hour to caucus at its high school Saturday.
Janielle Baker drove 65 miles from her cattle ranch in Baker to caucus for Klobuchar. She said she was raised Republican and identifies as Libertarian, but she’s worried about the direction of the country and she likes Klobuchar’s moderate views.
“I’d have an incredibly difficult time voting if it were Bernie Sanders or Trump,” she said.
But for others, Klobuchar’s centrist positions were a turnoff. Arla Ruggles from Cherry Creek said she couldn’t caucus for Klobuchar because of her record on the environment. “She’s pro-corporate, pro-mining, anti-wolf,” she said. “I just can’t.”
Klobuchar said that her national reputation is still building. She cited endorsements from large newspapers, including the New York Times, the Houston Chronicle and the San Francisco Chronicle.
“The newspaper endorsements are going to help me in states that don’t know me as well,” Klobuchar told reporters in Las Vegas.