Sen. Amy Klobuchar attacked President Donald Trump repeatedly but refrained from criticizing her Democratic rivals by name in the party’s second presidential debate.
Still polling in the low single digits, the Minnesota senator headed into Tuesday night’s CNN debate needing more than ever to make the kind of big impression that would help build momentum for her candidacy.
“Let’s get real,” Klobuchar said in her opening statement. “Tonight we debate, but ultimately we have to beat Donald Trump.”
Klobuchar made the night’s first reference to Trump’s feud with Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar and other women of color in the U.S. House.
“We come from a country of shared dreams. And I have had it with the racist attacks,” Klobuchar said.
At the same time, Klobuchar touted crossover appeal as a U.S. senator who has done well in more Republican parts of Minnesota in her statewide runs.
“There are people that voted for Donald Trump that weren’t racist, they just wanted a better shake with the economy,” Klobuchar said. “I will appeal to them.”
Asked how she’d tackle gun violence, Klobuchar vowed that as president she would pass universal background checks and ban assault weapons.
“What’s broken is a political system that allows the NRA and other large, big-money interests to make things not happen when a majority of people want them,” Klobuchar said.
Major portions of the debate featured sparring between more left-leaning frontrunners like Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren and more moderate candidates who aren’t doing as well, like former Rep. John Delaney and former Gov. John Hickenlooper.
Klobuchar was not central in those fights, though she did offer critiques of several proposals championed by Sanders and Warren, like Medicare for all and free college tuition.
“Do you want to win the argument or do you want to win the election?” Klobuchar asked. She said Medicare for All proposals, which envision the end of private insurance, would be hard to pass and unpopular with many voters.
“I just have a better way to do this,” Klobuchar said. “We need a public option. That’s what Barack Obama wanted, and it would bring down costs for everyone. Clearly this is the easiest way to move forward quickly and I want to get things done.”
Klobuchar said Sanders’ proposal to extend free college tuition and debt forgiveness to all Americans regardless of income was another example of an overly broad approach.
“I want to make it easier for kids to go to college and I think we do it by focusing our resources on those that need them the most,” she said.
Klobuchar was also subject to her first attack from a rival, when Rep. Tim Ryan criticized her past remark that she would be willing as president to meet with foreign dictators. “I love Amy Klobuchar but I think she’s wrong on this one,” Ryan said.
“I just think you have to leave open the possibility of meeting with anyone in any place,” Klobuchar responded.