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Amy Klobuchar is getting a little more attention lately in her Democratic presidential bid. It ought to offer a hint of hopeful news to those who want to beat Donald Trump.

That's if you understand that the Democrats' best shot against Trump entails appealing to working-class white voters in the political center, and the upper Midwest, with a transformative candidate from a middle-America state who entails a left-of-center essence but a pragmatic sensor.

Klobuchar would be transformative. She would be the first woman president, after all. She is solidly left-of-center philosophically. But she talks ever-pragmatically--of "plans, not pipe dreams."

She likes to remind people that, in her re-election to the U.S. Senate last year in Minnesota, she carried 42 counties that Trump had carried two years before.

She says correctly that you beat Trump by showing swing voters that their choice is not between a man they find personally offensive and a Democrat they find impractical or frightful. She says you beat him by offering them this choice: a man they find offensive and a Democratic alternative they see as reasonable.

Of the dozen top-polling Democratic presidential candidates, only Klobuchar resembles in any way the Arkansas Democratic model of the Clinton years. It was a model grounded in a modulated liberalism and enhanced by a comfortable connection with white rural voters.

That's why, when Klobuchar was in Arkansas in August, prominent old-line Clinton Democrats named Mack McLarty, Mark Pryor and Blanche Lambert Lincoln were hosts of a well-attended event for her at the Capital Hotel in Little Rock.

McLarty, Pryor and Lincoln called themselves Klobuchar's friends, not formal endorsers, and cast their event as a meet-and-greet, not a fundraiser. But it was a favor they didn't have to extend and a signal they didn't have to send.

"I guess she's maybe what you'd call the sleeper in the race," Mark Pryor told me.

When I told him of my assessment that, among all the Democratic presidential candidates, Klobuchar most closely resembled the old Arkansas model, and that the Arkansas model might itself resemble what the Democrats will need nationally next November, he said only, "I'd say that's a good observation."

McLarty told me Klobuchar is a "longtime friend who has a record as effective and bipartisan and who feels she's making a case that she could govern." He said he welcomed her "in a race that needed an alternative."

Klobuchar's uptick took place immediately after the most recent debate, when she assertively presented herself as the pragmatic rival to U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, the co-frontrunner with Sanders-like leftist populism.

Klobuchar raised a million dollars the day after she said she wanted to counter Warren's supposedly tax-less Medicare for all with a "reality check."

Klobuchar favors reforming health care and letting industry try to adapt with a new public competitor--a Medicare-like option. But she does not promise everyone a kind of Medicare that doesn't even exist today for seniors, meaning one without a premium or a private-industry component ... or even any additional taxes.

Warren is wedded to that impracticality by her disciplined adherence to her consumer-championing brand. It's not unlike her polarizing reputation in the Senate.

Pete Buttigieg joins Klobuchar in the leading advocacy for the anti-Warren view on health care, to the point that a commentator remarked the other day that Klobuchar and Buttigieg were making Joe Biden's case better than Joe was.

That's Klobuchar's big problem--that Biden, owing to name identification and good will and strong African American support, sucks up all the oxygen on the moderate, anti-Warren, anti-Sanders path to the nomination.

Klobuchar's fuller challenge is many-fold.

It's to rise as Warren's most effective resistance to the point that people start peeling off Biden as the default alternative.

It's to do that without being too hard on old Joe because of the good will and the fact that many still see him as the strongest counter to Trump.

It's to win black votes from Biden as the race moves to South Carolina and then through the entire Southern region, including Arkansas.

This, then, is the current Democratic dysfunction: The candidate offering a smart general election antidote to Trump is beset with a maze of complications in the primary that are demographic, regional, philosophical, racial, generational and overlapping.

Klobuchar's hope is to catch fire in one state, that being the Iowa that neighbors her Minnesota, and then, by winning there in the first caucuses, or even being a close second to Warren, take a shot at altering the dynamic.

If Klobuchar could last until Arkansas participates with 13 other states in Super Tuesday in March, I suspect there would be prominent old Democratic hands openly for her.

A postscript: Trump man Bud Cummins remarked on social media that the Democratic base would never be sane enough to nominate Klobuchar. I replied that he surely knew whereof he spoke when it came to insane political bases.


John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

Editorial on 10/24/2019

Print Headline: JOHN BRUMMETT: The reasonable alternative


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