ST. PAUL, Minn. — Bernie Sanders has a shot to deliver an embarrassing blow to Amy Klobuchar in the moderate senator's home state on Super Tuesday, thanks to a large and motivated progressive base in a state where she was once considered a shoo-in to win.
With the Vermont senator's Democratic presidential campaign surging nationally and Klobuchar still struggling for a breakthrough, observers increasingly see the race in Minnesota as a toss-up. Losing her home state would be hugely damaging to Klobuchar, whose main selling point throughout the campaign has been her three statewide victories for U.S. Senate, which she points to as proof she can win with cross-party appeal in America's heartland.
“If she can't make that argument in her home state, she's not going to be able to make it anywhere else,” said Gregg Peppin, a veteran Minnesota Republican strategist.
Sanders, who won Minnesota's precinct caucuses in 2016, planned to bring his Super Tuesday campaign to St. Paul for a rally Monday night.
Klobuchar sounded confident about her chances during a FoxNews town hall Thursday night.
“I think I should win my state,” she said. “I think I’m 10 points ahead there and have done a lot of work and people know me well there.”
But her campaign in recent days has not exuded confidence. In a memo released Monday on the state of the race, campaign manager Justin Buoen stopped short of predicting victory, saying “we also expect Amy to do well” in Minnesota.
Klobuchar had a last-minute rally set for Sunday night in suburban St. Louis Park to try to lock down her home turf. But her campaign canceled the Sunday event after protesters took the stage calling for her to drop out of the race over her handling of the case of Myon Burrell, a black teen who was sent to prison for life while Klobuchar was the county's top prosecutor. The protesters chanted “black lives matter” and “Myon." An Associated Press investigation questioned Klobuchar's handling of the case after a police investigation some say was flawed; she has said any new information should be considered.
Klobuchar, who was not on stage when the protests began, plans to campaign in other Super Tuesday states Monday and Tuesday before returning home for primary night.
Meanwhile, the airwaves and social media feeds have been full of ads for Michael Bloomberg. and the campaigns of Pete Buttigieg and Elizabeth Warren had get-out-the-vote events planned for the weekend. It was unclear, though, whether they will siphon much support from Klobuchar or Sanders.
“Amy Klobuchar is the hometown favorite, and she's going to get a lot of support because of that, but there are devoted Bernie Sanders supporters," said Larry Jacobs, a political scientist at the University of Minnesota. "Those people are not going to decide on Klobuchar because of a home-field advantage, they're going to be voting their passion and consciences for Bernie Sanders.”
One wild card in the race is that this is Minnesota's first presidential primary since 1992, and the first that's binding on both parties since 1956. Among the unknowns is how many voters — in a state that doesn't have registration by party — might stay home because their names and party preferences in the primary must be reported to the state's major parties.
Klobuchar has a long list of endorsements from much of the Democratic establishment in Minnesota, including former Vice President Walter Mondale and current Gov. Tim Walz. But Sanders has the backing of two progressive stars with national followings — U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar and Attorney General Keith Ellison — as well as some other office-holders on the left. TakeAction Minnesota, a powerful grassroots organization, is mobilizing supporters to turn out for Sanders.
“It will be close in Minnesota, but people who support Bernie are very clear about their support for him,” said Kenza Hadj-Moussa, the group's director of public affairs.
TakeAction Minnesota counts 150,000 people within its “universe,” Hadj-Moussa said, ranging from full members to people on its digital lists to veterans of previous campaigns. The group has been reaching out to those people via text-banking, phone calls, emails, and door-knocking in low-income neighborhoods, she said, and they're identifying additional Sanders supporters.
And they're ready to keep it up through November if he's the Democratic nominee.
“We'll be supporting his campaign for as long as he's running,” Hadj-Moussa said.