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Amy Klobuchar, New Hampshire's surprise finisher, faces big challenges keeping her momentum alive

Seema Mehta and Janet Hook, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

MANCHESTER, N.H. -- Amy Klobuchar's surprisingly strong third-place showing in New Hampshire's Democratic presidential primary catapulted the long-shot candidate into the top tier -- and a new phase of campaigning that will test her shoestring operation.

The little-known Minnesota senator, counted out and mired at the bottom of the polls for months, on Tuesday managed to beat far more prominent politicians through campaigning hustle, a message of progressive pragmatism and a lean but effective organization.

A reckoning is coming, however.

Nevada and South Carolina, the next two states that vote this month, have large numbers of minorities, in contrast with the overwhelmingly white electorates for the opening Iowa and New Hampshire contests. That poses a challenge for Klobuchar, a former prosecutor from a mostly white state who has seen little support in polls from people of color.

She benefited in New Hampshire from support among the state's many white college graduates, especially women, according to exit polling. Yet Nevada and South Carolina do not have nearly such high proportions of college graduates, suggesting they could be less hospitable to her.

Following those two battlegrounds, more than a dozen states vote on Super Tuesday, March 3, including California -- a challenge for all the candidates but certainly for Klobuchar, who lacks the deep pockets and multistate infrastructure of some rivals. All the while, she is likely to face heightened attention to her record.


Even so, her strong close in New Hampshire illustrated how unsettled the 2020 Democratic contest remains. Without a clear front-runner for the party's nomination, Klobuchar continues to have an opening, and her new place in the top tier could translate into more money, staff and volunteers.

She has clawed her way into a particularly fluid competition among the field's moderate candidates, led so far by former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg. They are fighting to emerge as the principal alternative to Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who consolidated his position as the top candidate of the party's left wing with his narrow victory in New Hampshire.

Klobuchar's immediate challenge is in Nevada, whose caucuses on Feb. 22 require a big investment in organizing clout to get voters to commit to the time it takes to participate.

"She's going to make her presence known, but in terms of the moderate lane, Pete has been working on that for some time," said Rebecca Katz, a former aide to Nevada's premier Democratic power broker, former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.


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