As she completes her first six-year term in the Senate, Klobuchar is arguably the most popular politician in the state and, judging by the near complete lack of buzz from her Republican competition, an almost dead-certain lock for reelection in November.Three weeks after her Iron Range tour, a national poll declared her “the sixth most popular senator in the country.” A week later, campaign finance reports had her with $4.6 million in the bank, as opposed to $34,000 for the most well-heeled of three GOP candidates. Her previous informal campaign adviser, Jeff Blodgett, best known for running the late Paul Wellstone’s campaigns, predictably warns about overconfidence. He has an example to back it up: Democrat Russ Feingold was considered bulletproof in Wisconsin two years ago until wealthy businessman Ron Johnson stepped in and rode Tea Party fervor to a jolting victory.
But Minnesota isn’t Wisconsin. This isn’t 2010. And Klobuchar isn’t as polarizing a figure as Feingold was. In fact, she has a personal, personable style reminiscent of Wellstone, and in her first term she managed to avoid any embarrassing missteps—a set of political assets extremely rare in the viciously divisive “gotcha” game that is 21st-century public service.
THE HUMAN TOUCH
Klobuchar started that January day in Bemidji with a dawn meet-up at Raphael’s. Then she hustled around the corner to City Hall for a Red Cross awards ceremony honoring a young student nurse whose quick thinking had saved her father-in-law’s life. Bemidji politicos traded jokes with Klobuchar, posed for photos, and expressed unanimous admiration for her “retail” political skill, that mostly innate, hard-to-teach ability to interact like a recognizable human being with “average citizens.”
Klobuchar thanks “everyone here in Bemidji for the warmth and cooperation I’m feeling, just like Washington.” The line gets a hearty laugh. “She’s not at all pretentious,” remarks Mayor Dave Larson. “People like that. She’s very down to earth.”
Klobuchar, who built her career mainly as Hennepin County attorney, is the epitome of the whip-smart, ambitious big-city kid with a golden educational pedigree (valedictorian at Wayzata High School, magna cum laude in political science at Yale, law degree from University of Chicago). But her father’s Slovenian Iron Range roots (Klobuchar’s grandfather was a miner) count for a lot Up North. At every stop, someone mentions her “Ranger” cred, meaning . . . well, the ability to gulp down a fresh, still-warm donut at Raphael’s and chat about whatever the locals have on their minds.
“[Klobuchar has] the best human touch of any of them I’ve met.”
Brad Swenson, Bemidji Pioneer Politics EDITOR
“She came around here campaigning for local candidates before she ran for Senate,” remembers Swenson, the Pioneer’s politics editor. “I liked her because she enjoyed talking issues, which, as a columnist, I do too. But she had no problem with whatever else someone wanted to ask her about.” Just about every state politician has stopped in Bemidji to schmooze Swenson. He says Klobuchar has “the best human touch of any of them I’ve met, with the exception of Wellstone. That guy was amazing. But she is right up there.”