GOFFSTOWN, N.H. – Sen. Amy Klobuchar brought her message of grit and electability to New Hampshire on Monday, where she has a year to make an impression with the state’s Democratic voters if her presidential campaign is to gain traction outside the Midwest.
“I come to this race ready to win, and if you don’t believe me, look at my record,” she said. “In the last three elections, I have won every single congressional district in Minnesota — including Michele Bachmann’s.”
It was Klobuchar’s first stop in New Hampshire as a presidential candidate, although she quickly told a group of about 100 people gathered at a tavern in the Manchester-area town of Goffstown that “I’ve been here a lot.” She mentioned campaigning for the state’s two Democratic senators, Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan, and joked: “I know how to pronounce Lake Winnipesaukee.”
New Hampshire traditionally holds the first primary of the presidential cycle, preceded only by Iowa’s caucus. Next year’s New Hampshire primary must be held no later than Feb. 11.
Later Monday, Klobuchar was guest of honor on a CNN town hall in Manchester. She struck a moderate tone, declining to endorse proposals popular with progressive Democrats like Medicare for all and the “Green New Deal” that she called aspirational but not immediately achievable. She also said she didn’t support making college free.
“If I was a magic genie and we could afford that, we would,” Klobuchar said. “But I’ve got to tell the truth. We’ve got a mounting debt that keeps getting worse and worse.”
Klobuchar is not as well-known in New Hampshire as some other Democratic candidates, and her Goffstown crowd was smaller than those drawn by rivals like Sens. Kamala Harris of California and Cory Booker of New Jersey. Both of them also campaigned in New Hampshire on Monday.
But Klobuchar is betting that a moderate style and record of working with Republicans could be a draw here, a swing state where independents and Republicans can vote in the Democratic primary.
“We also have a strong sense of independent voters,” Klobuchar said in Goffstown, as she drew comparisons for the crowd between New Hampshire and Minnesota, mentioning the election of Jesse Ventura as governor.
In a speech that ran about 15 minutes, Klobuchar hit on most of the same points she made at her first campaign stops last weekend in Wisconsin and Iowa and in her Minneapolis campaign kickoff on Feb. 10. She talked about health care, calling for a public option and for lower prescription drug prices.
“The pharmaceutical companies, they think they own Washington,” Klobuchar said. “And they do own a lot of people. But they don’t own me.”
Klobuchar called for swift action to fight climate change and lessen income inequality, and efforts to boost what she described as an American democracy under threat. That includes automatic voter registration for all 18-year-olds, a strengthened Voting Rights Act and a more strongly regulated campaign finance system.
At stake, she said, “is the very essence of our democracy. It’s under attack daily by Donald Trump.”
Jerome Duval, a Manchester Realtor and former Democratic elected official, came to the event at the Village Trestle hoping to be impressed by Klobuchar. He said she made a good impression during last year’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearings over the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
“I think I’m there with her,” Duval said after the speech. “It’s still early and there’s a lot of attractive candidates. But I like her plain speaking. She’ll resonate with middle America, with blue-collar America.”
In picking a small-town bar for her first New Hampshire event, Klobuchar stuck with an emerging emphasis for her campaign, the idea that she seeks out voters where other Democrats don’t. With a pool table in the middle of the room and a sign out front reading “Support Our Troops,” the Village Trestle resembled countless small-town Minnesota watering holes.
“My advice to her is to keep going places where Donald Trump won, because he won in those places by relating to them,” said Carlos Cardona, a Democratic activist and former state lawmaker from Laconia. “If she’s first into those areas, that’s going to be a niche she can fill.”
Cardona did not attend Klobuchar’s first New Hampshire event. Instead, he spent the afternoon with yet another Democratic candidate, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii. It points to a challenge for Klobuchar in a Democratic field that could swell to more than 20 candidates.
“It’s really anybody’s game,” said Matt Wilhelm, a Democratic state representative from Manchester. Instead of going to see Klobuchar, Wilhelm and his wife went to see Kamala Harris around the same time in Concord.
Asked about his early favorites, Wilhelm said: “I had dinner with Cory Booker last night. I was really impressed by him.”
Given the state’s long-standing nation-leading status and small size, New Hampshire Democrats said they are accustomed to personal attention from presidential candidates. Most New Hampshire Democrats interviewed at the Klobuchar event, and a handful of party leaders and activists contacted separately, said they’re undecided.
“They all seem to be interested in the same things I’m interested in, more or less,” said Cindy Rizza, an artist who lives in Goffstown, which is about 20 miles west of Manchester, with a population of about 3,200 people. “So, what I’m interested in is someone who can appeal to a diverse group of voters.”
Jay Surdukowski, a Concord attorney with deep Democratic ties, said he’s leaning toward former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who has not yet entered the race. He said he’s intrigued by Klobuchar but grew concerned after several online news outlets published anonymous allegations that she has mistreated people who work for her. Surdukowski said those stories have been widely circulated by New Hampshire Democratic insiders.
“I’ll be watching closely to see how she parlays that,” Surdukowski said. Asked about those reports on CNN, Klobuchar gave her now-standard response.
“Am I a tough boss sometimes? Yes. Have I pushed people too hard? Yes,” Klobuchar said.
Campaign advisers said Klobuchar will spend a lot of time in New Hampshire between now and next February. She’ll be back on Sunday.