Amy Klobuchar is racing to scale up her presidential campaign, crisscrossing the country to raise the cash needed to deliver her message of Midwestern pragmatism to new and more diverse audiences around the country to compete in the multistate Super Tuesday contest.
Seeking to capitalize on her third-place finish in the New Hampshire primary, the Minnesota Democrat has spent the week traveling coast to coast, bookending campaign events with fundraisers hosted by Wall Street executives and Hollywood elites. In a span of 48 hours, the campaign launched its first South Carolina television ad, secured endorsements from two major newspapers, appeared on four nationally televised Sunday shows and announced raising $12 million in just over a week.
A growing corps of national press is tracking her every move as she campaigns before Saturday’s caucuses in Nevada, preceded by Wednesday night’s debate in Las Vegas, the next step in her underdog campaign.
“The debates are about to become even more important than they already were. It’s not a coincidence that she had her first breakout performance in a debate with a half-empty stage,” said Dan Schnur, a former strategist for GOP presidential campaigns. “When voters are able to concentrate on a finite number of candidates the debates become much more important.”
The whirlwind schedule, accompanied by growing media attention, is emblematic of life at the center of the new high-metabolism — and high-cost — phase of the Democratic presidential primary. With an unsettled field, campaigns are in a weekslong battle to amass the delegates needed to win the nomination.
“You have to hire staff, you have to have ads going in the most expensive media markets in the country,” said Tim Lim, a digital strategist and fundraiser who helped raise money for Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama’s presidential bids. “The real question is: How quickly can you expand your operations in these Super Tuesday states while keeping your focus on the contests coming up in Nevada and South Carolina?”
For Klobuchar, the 14-state contest — including Minnesota — could be an especially tall order. After spending a year laser-focused on two small, early states, Iowa and New Hampshire, the three-term senator must rapidly boost her appeal and reach, building a national campaign apparatus in a matter of weeks.
“We’re building up our staff all over the country, actually in the Super Tuesday states, because finally I’ve gotten the resources I need,” Klobuchar said Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”
But the quick expansion has fueled reports depicting a campaign scrambling to adjust to its newfound status as a top-tier contender following a better-than-expected finish in New Hampshire. Campaign manager Justin Buoen dismissed suggestions that the campaign is “totally unprepared,” pointing to campaign events in the March 3 Super Tuesday states such as California, Colorado, Texas and Tennessee.
“Sure, it is a big transition to go from a state-by-state campaign to Super Tuesday, but I think we are poised to take advantage of the momentum we’ve got,” he said. “We will have staff in all the Super Tuesday states, we are doing media buys and we will play in all of them.”
Competing on that national map requires an infusion of campaign cash and a national network of supporters, surrogates and campaign workers. The $12 million haul announced Sunday is a big jump for Klobuchar, who reported $11.4 million in donations the final three months of 2019. But it’s still far less than what top rivals, including Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg, raised in previous quarters. Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who sat out the early contests, has already spent more than $124 million of his own money in Super Tuesday states, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Klobuchar’s campaign says it already has dozens of aides on the ground for the next two contests and at least one in each Super Tuesday state. Those numbers are expected to grow: the campaign website listed more than two dozen job openings as of Tuesday, including a “state analytics lead” charged with plotting a national data strategy and field and communications staffers in Super Tuesday states.
Klobuchar is also getting help from outside the official campaign. A new independent committee called Kitchen Table Conversations PAC is spending seven figures on TV ads promoting her bid, including in Nevada and South Carolina.
“As people have gotten to know her, she’s connected in a very authentic way and we want to make sure others have that opportunity to get to know her,” said Richard Carlbom, a Minnesota DFL operative helping run the operation.
Time is running short: Voters in several Super Tuesday states, including Minnesota and the delegate-rich states of California and Texas, are already casting ballots. Analysts say positive coverage in the wake of her New Hampshire performance presents an opportunity to win over voters unfamiliar with her campaign.
But her new national profile also brings deeper examination of comments past and present, as well as attacks from rivals. Klobuchar, already struggling to make inroads with minority voters, stumbled last week after she was unable to name Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador in an interview with Telemundo. A group backing Warren’s campaign blasted her as “not prepared.”
“The best thing about breaking out the way she has is that you become a fresh, new, exciting face to voters all over the country,” said Schnur, a strategist who served as national director of communications for John McCain’s 2000 campaign. “But you’re immediately racing to firm up those first impressions before your detractors get an audience for their accusations.”
The biggest prizes on Super Tuesday, California and Texas, together account for about a third of the delegates needed to win the nomination. But given the fractured field, success — and even survival — in the short term could rest not on carrying states, but on winning enough delegates to stay viable and keep the campaign contributions flowing.
“As other candidates begin to peel off, if you’re still standing, that makes you very viable,” said Rick Ridder, a Colorado-based consultant and veteran of Democratic presidential campaigns. “But ultimately that viability is tested by the amount of money you can raise.”