Barring an early impeachment trial in the Senate, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota could have a vital shot Tuesday at making tangible gains in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination.
In the final debate before the Iowa caucuses on Feb. 3, Klobuchar will share the stage at Drake University in Des Moines with only five other rivals who made the final cut. The slimmer field offers a chance for more airtime and a longer look from voters still making up their minds about the senator, deemed by some pundits to have the most to gain from the encounter.
Here's what the handicappers and political analysts will be looking for:
Klobuchar's penchant for folksy mom jokes has become a hallmark of her debate style — for better or for worse. But she's shown a more pugnacious side in recent debates, notably when she mocked Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren's health and education proposals as unrealistic and dismissed former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg as not ready for prime time.
Klobuchar would benefit most from any stumble by Buttigieg, another Midwestern rival presenting himself as a moderate alternative to Warren and Sen. Bernie Sanders, the socialist-Democrat from Vermont.
Ultimately, when the smoke clears in Iowa, Klobuchar needs to crack the top four of Sanders, Buttigieg, Warren and former Vice President Joe Biden. Despite a shaky start, Biden has kept the top spot in most state and national polls. And in the search for an electable centrist, the primary race still feels like it's Biden's to lose.
Biden also seems to show the best when it comes to the ongoing conflict with Iran, a new topic in the debate sweepstakes. Klobuchar needs to strike big here: Biden has started running ads based on his tried-and-true foreign policy chops developed in eight years as vice president, not to mention decades in the Senate. Foreign policy has not been one of Klobuchar's specialties in the Senate. Earlier this month, she was dinged for making a "significant false claim" in an interview with CNN about whether Iran was announcing plans to develop a nuclear weapon.
While still firmly an underdog, Klobuchar has begun to score high marks from the national political punditry.
The New York Times' David Leonhardt described her as the answer to the question of where Democrats could find a "comfortably electable, qualified candidate who won't turn 80 while in office."
The Washington Post's Jennifer Rubin assessed that Klobuchar is boosting her polling and fundraising numbers at just the right time, with Warren — now the only other woman in real contention — appearing to slow down.
Will the positive ink be matched by real results?
Stephen Montemayor • 651-925-5048