WASHINGTON – Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s surprisingly strong third-place finish in the New Hampshire primary Tuesday generated an immediate fundraising haul and coveted momentum heading into Nevada.
What’s less clear for the Minnesota senator is her path to the Democratic presidential nomination in a still-crowded field where most of her rivals are better known and have built larger field organizations in Nevada, South Carolina and the Super Tuesday states that loom ahead.
“I don’t have that big bank account. I don’t have that big name (recognition) as some of the other people that are in this race. And I am not a newcomer with no political record,” Klobuchar, 59, told supporters Tuesday after polls closed in New Hampshire. “But what I do is get things done. What I have is your back.”
And she has “Klomentum.”
Klobuchar’s campaign said she raised roughly $2.5 million Tuesday night after early returns showed her with about 20% of the vote and surging past former front-runners Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren. That was on top of the $4 million her campaign raised in the few days after her standout performance at Friday’s debate in Manchester, New Hampshire.
That four-day haul was more than half the $11 million she raised during the last three months of 2019.
That fundraising boost helped bankroll an ad buy in Nevada that starts this week and will cost more than $1 million, according to her campaign. The campaign deployed an additional 20 staffers to the Silver State to help the 30 on the ground. Thursday, Klobuchar will hold a town hall in Las Vegas.
She’s still coming in later than her Democratic rivals.
Klobuchar’s Nevada team wasn’t hired until the fall and numbered fewer than a dozen until the campaign redeployed staff from Iowa last week. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who won New Hampshire, has been organizing in Nevada since April 2019 and has more than 250 staffers in the state. Former Vice President Biden has more than 80. Former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg has about 100, and Warren, a senator from Massachusetts, has more than 50.
None of that factors in former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg who has spent tens of millions of dollars to bolster his presidential candidacy.
It’s not clear how much New Hampshire might boost the Minnesota senator’s name recognition or help sell the argument that her more centrist positions (compared with Sanders and Warren) and her federal experience (compared with Buttigieg) make her the best candidate to defeat President Donald Trump.
“Amy Klobuchar is exactly where you want to be coming out of New Hampshire – dark horse to top tier, overnight,” said Democratic media strategist John Lapp. “The question now will be: Can that momentum translate into money? And can she quickly jury rig a field and political presence in Nevada, South Carolina and Super Tuesday states out of nothing?”
Before the New Hampshire contest, Klobuchar was barely a blip in South Carolina and Nevada surveys. The two most recent South Carolina polls show her trailing all other contenders, getting 2% support among Democratic primary voters surveyed.
Biden leads the field with 37% support among likely Democratic voters, followed by Tom Steyer at 19%, according to an East Carolina University poll conducted Jan. 31 to Feb. 2. Two Nevada polls show Klobuchar with negligible support, although they were conducted in early January, so they may not reflect shifts in the fluid Democratic contest.
Klobuchar was “the clear winner of the expectations primary” in New Hampshire, but it could be tough for her translate that surprise showing into wins in any of the next contests, two veteran Democratic strategists, William Galston and Elaine Kamarck, wrote in an analysis Wednesday.
“In New Hampshire she benefited from a stellar performance in the debate on Friday night and from the fact that many New Hampshire voters remained undecided going into the weekend,” wrote Galston and Kamarck, who have worked on previous White House campaigns.
“Her challenge now is to mobilize resources quickly enough to be competitive in the final two early contests, Nevada and South Carolina,” they said. That could be particularly difficult given Klobuchar’s lack of support from African American and Latino voters, who will dominate those two elections, they noted.
Klobuchar, the former top prosecutor in Minneapolis, faced tough questions about her oversight of a high-profile murder case in which a black teen was sentenced to life after a flawed police investigation.
A Quinnipiac University poll released Monday found Klobuchar has no support among black voters who identify themselves as Democrats or who lean Democratic. The poll has a margin of error of +/- 3.8 percentage points.
Tyler Jones, a Democratic strategist in South Carolina, said that although Biden has an edge among black voters in South Carolina, that could change quickly in light of the former vice president “stumbling” and the prospect of Sanders becoming the nominee.
“No voters are more pragmatic than Democrats in red states,” Jones said. “Black voters have stuck with Biden this long because they saw him as the safest choice, the candidate who would do best against Trump. Now there is a question about that, and black voters, they want to win in November. They’re going to start to give Amy her first real look.”
Klobuchar’s biggest challenge is building a strong campaign apparatus in South Carolina and Nevada, Kamarck said in an interview.
“I would take a deep breath, look at the money coming in and figure out how to stay in the game in the next two states,” the analyst said. “If she can keep performing (well in) the next two states, she will be well placed going into Super Tuesday.”
Klobuchar said her strength is that she appeals to a broad cross-section of voters, including a coalition of “fired-up Democrats, independents and moderate Republicans” necessary to defeat Trump.
In 2018, she was reelected to a third term by winning 42 Minnesota counties that had gone for Trump two years earlier.
“People told me that they didn’t think a woman could be elected. In my case it was (being) elected to the U.S. Senate,” she told the New Hampshire crowd Tuesday night. “But I came back. I defied expectations, and I won. And I have done it over and over again in the reddest of red districts and the bluest of blue districts.”
Contributing: The Associated Press