Sen. Amy Klobuchar returned to Minnesota on Sunday hoping to pivot to Super Tuesday after a distant sixth-place finish in the South Carolina primary.
But while hundreds of supporters gathered for her homecoming in a St. Louis Park High School gymnasium, dozens of protesters streamed in, chanting for her to exit the race over her handling of the case against Myon Burrell, a black teenager convicted in a 2002 child slaying when Klobuchar was Hennepin County attorney.
As protesters took over the stage shouting “Myon!” Klobuchar supporters shouted “Amy!” back. Klobuchar was not in the gymnasium as the protest unfolded, disrupting the start of a program of campaign speeches. The ongoing protest eventually forced the campaign to cancel the rally. “The campaign offered a meeting with the senator if they would leave the stage after being on stage for more than an hour,” a campaign spokesman said. “After the group initially agreed, they backed out of the agreement and we are canceling the event.”
Protest leaders said the campaign would not meet their demand to publicly acknowledge Burrell during the rally.
The event was planned as Klobuchar seeks to salvage momentum for a long-shot campaign low on cash and in a downward trajectory since a surprising third-place result in New Hampshire on Feb. 11.
With Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Vice President Joe Biden now leading in the delegate count for the Democratic nomination, Klobuchar and some of the other trailing rivals face new questions about staying in the race. As she headed back to Minnesota, the news broke that former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, a top Midwestern rival, was dropping out.
At the rally, Jeff Peterson, a 73-year-old Klobuchar supporter from southwest Minneapolis, said he hopes Buttigieg’s exit marks a “tipping point” for the Minnesota Democrat. He said he’s holding out hope that Klobuchar, whom he described as “Trump’s worst nightmare,” will emerge as the nominee.
“I’m an optimist,” he said. “When you really feel strongly about somebody, you take your best shot and hope for the best.”
The Burrell case has become a rallying cry for Twin Cities’ civil rights activists who believe he was wrongly convicted. Klobuchar has called for any new evidence to be reviewed. Meanwhile, she has faced more intense pressure to bow out from Democrats seeking to coalesce around a leading moderate who can prevent Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, from winning the nomination.
So far, Klobuchar has shown no signs of following Buttigieg out of the race.
“You know I’m running all the way,” Klobuchar said in a Fox television interview earlier Sunday. “I wouldn’t have done this from the moment I announced in a blizzard if I didn’t think I was the best candidate to lead our party and to be president.”
Needing to regroup by Tuesday, when Minnesota and 14 other states and one territory weigh in, Klobuchar swung through Selma, Ala., before returning home. She also planned campaign events Monday in Salt Lake City, Denver and Tulsa, Okla., all states where voters will go to the polls Tuesday.
Her 11-state Super Tuesday campaign will end in Fayetteville, N.C., as voting starts, before jetting back to Minnesota for an election night party in St. Paul.
As part of the final push, Klobuchar got help Sunday from Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz and Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, who headlined several events for her in the Washington suburbs in northern Virginia, a liberal enclave in what was once a Republican state.
Other prominent DFLers, including David Wellstone and U.S. Sen. Tina Smith, crisscrossed Minnesota over the weekend in a green bus, evoking the iconic campaigns of Wellstone’s father, the late Sen. Paul Wellstone. Also on the bus: U.S. Reps. Dean Phillips and Angie Craig and State Auditor Julie Blaha.
In recent campaign events, including a Friday rally in Virginia, Klobuchar has taken particular aim at Sanders and his “Medicare for All” plan. “I am someone that believes we should build on the Affordable Care Act and not blow it up,” she said, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
Sanders, the front-runner, remains a potent threat to Klobuchar in Minnesota, where a recent Star Tribune/MPR poll found him closely trailing. He won the state’s caucuses in 2016 and returns Monday for a rally in St. Paul.
Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg also has visited and spent heavily on ads in the state. His backers held several events Sunday in the Twin Cities, as did supporters of Buttigieg and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
Some political analysts said Sunday that the most important thing for Klobuchar’s viability at this point is to hold off Sanders and win Minnesota. “I don’t think he would show up in Minnesota on the eve of Super Tuesday if he didn’t think he had a chance,” said Steven Schier, a Carleton College political science professor emeritus.
Schier questioned Klobuchar’s chances going forward. “I think the South Carolina result ended any chance that she will be the nominee,” he said. “When you get sixth place and 3% of the vote, it’s hard to make an argument at this stage in the calendar.”
Klobuchar campaign manager Justin Buoen, however, said the campaign expects to be competitive on Super Tuesday. In an interview Sunday on WCCO Radio, he said the $12 million the campaign raised after the New Hampshire debate allowed them to outspend leading rivals in Super Tuesday states.
The campaign has spent more than $4 million on TV ads and has staff in every state voting Tuesday.