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As next debate nears, trailing candidates soldier on in obscurity

Evan Halper, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

"Come back, Sen. Hart. Come back," Bennet said, savoring the rare burst of national media attention Hart drew to the campaign.

Bennet mapped out a path to victory: Voters will ultimately recognize him as distinct, he said, because he offers practical solutions and ideological bridge building rather than the kind of polarizing politics that could deliver President Donald Trump another term.

That's a common refrain from the large number of also-ran candidates who are centrists, all of whom are watching Joe Biden's uneven performance on the stump and waiting for lightning to strike the front-runner.

"I call them the understudies," said Mike Murphy, a Republican strategist who helped the late Sen. John McCain orchestrate a comeback. "They are all waiting for Biden to crumple."

Among those he includes in that category is Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota. When she launched her campaign in a snowstorm in February, donors filled her coffers with $1 million in 24 hours. It's been slow going since. In some national polls, she's in Michael Bennet territory.

After giving a talk to a few dozen voters in New Hampshire on Friday, Klobuchar joked in an interview about recapturing the energy of the launch.


"It's going to snow again," she said. "Then we can really bring out those photos."

The Klobuchar campaign plans to build on the platform of the debates (she qualified for this week's event) and the one place the candidate is getting a little traction -- Iowa, next door to her home state.

Her team is bulking up organizing and seizing on the advantage of the senator being from the region to spur grassroots momentum. That sort of strategy, heavy on building an organization in one or two early contests, worked for candidates like Hart and McCain, and also Jimmy Carter and John F. Kerry. All were written off by the national media as also-rans but came roaring out of early-state victories that they built by wearing down their shoe leather in Iowa or New Hampshire.

"Nobody in my lifetime who has led in the polls this far out has gone on to be president in our party," said Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, another in the army of the stalled, as he talked with a small gaggle of reporters after an event in Goffstown, N.H. "In fact, if you are leading in the polls right now, you should worry."


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