Looking to capitalize on the momentum of her third-place finish in New Hampshire, Amy Klobuchar pivoted Wednesday to the next presidential contest in Nevada, where she will face new tests of organizational strength in a state with a much more diverse population than any she has campaigned in before.
The Minnesota Democrat exceeded expectations in the first-in-the-nation primary Tuesday, seizing on a strong debate performance to win 20% of the vote, enough to jump ahead of top-tier candidates Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden.
But Nevada, like South Carolina, which follows later in the month, will present a different set of challenges. After focusing on Iowa and New Hampshire, two relatively small, homogenous states, Klobuchar must compete in the South and West while building up a national campaign ahead of Super Tuesday on March 3. With her profile on the rise, she also will face a more intense level of national media scrutiny, which already has started with stories scrutinizing her record on racial justice as Hennepin County attorney.
Klobuchar indicated after her New Hampshire performance that she is in the race for the long haul. As the polls closed, her campaign announced a “seven-figure” TV ad buy and two Thursday campaign stops in Las Vegas, including an appearance at a panel hosted by a Latino political advocacy group.
“Because of you we are taking this campaign to Nevada, we are going to South Carolina,” she told supporters Tuesday night. “We are taking this message of unity to the country.”
In Nevada, Latinos make up nearly 30% of the population. A similar percentage of South Carolina residents are black. National polls have shown Klobuchar struggling to make inroads with both demographic groups. The Feb. 22 caucus in the Silver State will be a crucial first test.
“We’ll actually see in Nevada whether her message is resonating with minorities or not,” said Dan Lee, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. “We just haven’t had a chance to see.”
Experts say she’ll need to move — and spend — quickly to introduce herself and win over voters unfamiliar with her background. The campaign has already shuttled former Iowa staffers to Nevada, bringing the total presence there to at least 50. Local hires include two alumni of former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s campaign. Edwin Torres, a graduate of St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minn., and self-described “Dreamer” brought into the country illegally as a minor, serves as director of Latino outreach. Minnesota state Sen. Melisa Franzen, who is Puerto Rican, has been campaigning for her as well.
A void of recent public polling in a primary in flux makes it hard to gauge the state of the race in Nevada. The last survey, released weeks before the Iowa caucuses, showed Klobuchar tied for sixth place with 4% support. U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Vice President Joe Biden were leading at the time.
Klobuchar, once written off as a presidential contender, now also faces new questions about her record on criminal justice and immigration. Critics on the left have attacked her tough-on-crime record, contending it was disproportionately aimed at black men. Police-involved shootings during her term as Hennepin County attorney also have drawn scrutiny. On Wednesday, the National Republican Committee sent a release highlighting her support for a border fence while running for U.S. Senate in 2006.
Still, analysts say coverage of her New Hampshire performance could help Klobuchar in her goal of finishing near or ahead of Biden and former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, her two main rivals for the party’s moderate wing.
“Especially given how Biden has by all accounts underperformed a bit, there’s a potential she could win over some Biden supporters if people are starting to shift and view her as more electable,” Lee said.
New attacks on Sanders, the front-runner, could also help. The powerful Culinary Workers Union, a 60,000-member political giant made up largely of immigrants and women, has yet to announce an endorsement. But this week, the group began circulating fliers in English and Spanish that blast Sanders’ support of Medicare for All. The flier, first reported by the Nevada Independent, specifically thanks Klobuchar for supporting a plan that would “protect Culinary Healthcare” and pledging to “work with unions on regulations about technology at work.”
Even if Klobuchar does well in the next two contests, a significant share of the delegates needed to actually win the nomination will be awarded on the March 3 “Super Tuesday” showdown when 15 states or jurisdictions, including California, Minnesota and Texas, cast their ballots.
Competing on that expanded map will require an infusion of campaign cash for Klobuchar, who has consistently trailed top rivals by millions of dollars in the money race. Campaign Manager Justin Buoen said Klobuchar raised more than $2.5 million in the hours after the New Hampshire polls closed. About 60% of those contributors were first-time donors to the campaign. On Wednesday, the senator traveled to New York City for a fundraiser.
Jeff Blodgett, a longtime adviser to the Minnesota Democrat, said while a bump in media coverage off her Granite State win can make up for some deficit, “clearly she needs to keep raising money, no question.”