If one intends to review this post, but has not yet read Part I (which is immediately below), I would start there 😉
In Part I of this note, I offered that subject to events that could alter the national mood, MN Senator Amy Klobuchar has the best chance of the currently-announced Democratic presidential candidates to defeat President Trump in the fall of 2020. Those outside the Upper Midwest think of Minnesota as a deep blue state, but it is actually “two states,” consisting of the Twin Cities on the one hand and most of the rest of the state on the other – the latter made up of conservative, rural towns. Sec. Clinton’s narrow Minnesota victory in 2016 primarily resulted from overwhelming Twin Cities support. What might show that Sen. Klobuchar would be a challenging opponent for President Trump in 2020 is that she won every Minnesota congressional district in her 2018 Senate race. Perhaps in contrast to the coastal candidates, against the President Sen. Klobuchar would certainly hold Minnesota, have excellent prospects to hold or reclaim Colorado, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Iowa (a state which the Democrats will otherwise probably write off) and seemingly have a favorable opportunity to hold or reclaim New Hampshire, Arizona, Georgia, and North Carolina.
I have previously suggested that presidential elections are about matchups; I would venture that nominating contests are frequently about lanes. It would seem that Sen. Klobuchar currently has the center lane in this race all to herself. If she is fortunate enough to keep the center lane to herself (an entry by Mr. Biden would significantly adversely affect her prospects) and campaigns ably, she would – subject to the hurdles described below – seemingly have a path to the nomination. Lanes matter.
In the 1976 Democratic Presidential nominating contest, there was initially a cluster of liberal candidates that entered the race in the party’s left lane. AL Gov. George Wallace claimed the right lane (indeed, Mr. Wallace was the first modern politician to tap into what is now the Trump base). Virtually alone in the center lane was former Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter. There has perhaps not been a modern campaign to a nomination run as brilliantly as Mr. Carter’s, but to succeed, he needed good fortune as well as shrewd planning. An unknown Born-Again Christian with a navy and farming background, Mr. Carter recognized that he had to sneak up on the field, and focused on winning the Iowa caucuses – which, up to that time, had been of no national interest. Mr. Carter “camped out” in Iowa for a year, talking to Iowans in fields and coffee shops, sharing his faith and his farming and service background … and won. The media loves novelty, and he rode it. Mr. Carter understood that he had to carry southern states to win the nomination; he narrowly defeated Mr. Wallace in the early Florida primary, cementing his image as a winner. He secured the nomination by taking the entire centrist vote in primary after primary while the liberals, to their frustration, kept splitting the (overall larger) liberal vote.
There is, however, a daunting reality for Ms. Klobuchar underpinning this rosy Carter scenario: Mr. Carter won early when he had to. Had he not won the Iowa caucuses and gained momentum, his candidacy would have floundered. Even with the Iowa surprise, had he not beaten Mr. Wallace in Florida – showing that he could win (as he did, in November) a region that the party had lost to Richard Nixon in 1968 and 1972 – he would have been finished.
Those with even longer memories – and political junkies – will recall what is perhaps the classic accounting of an American presidential campaign: Theodore H. White’s The Making of the President 1960. Mr. White described in detail the 1960 Wisconsin Democratic primary contest between MA Sen. John F. Kennedy and MN Sen. Hubert H. Humphrey. Mr. Kennedy, on the strength of a strong Catholic vote, narrowly defeated Mr. Humphrey. Mr. Humphrey publicly claimed a moral victory by winning a strong minority against the much-better-financed Mr. Kennedy. Mr. White wrote: “But the reading of politics by hard men across the nation could only be otherwise. If Humphrey could not carry Wisconsin, a neighbor state so similar in culture and sociology to his own, then he could carry nothing in the Midwest. Thus, in hard politics, he could not deliver his base; therefore, he had been eliminated.”
I would suggest that to maintain a viable candidacy, Ms. Klobuchar must win the Iowa caucuses. If she loses, her candidacy would seemingly be ended out of the gate. Even if she wins in Iowa, I would offer that since the premise of her candidacy is that she can win in the Midwest, she … needs to win in the Midwest. She will need to win (or score impressive results with commensurate delegate counts) in states like Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, and stage a surprise or two on the coasts (perhaps more conservative New Hampshire, where a victory over Ms. Warren would be impressive; Washington or Oregon, where Ms. Harris’ glitz may not sit well with grounded liberals) or in states that Democrats hope to claim where her Midwest background could appeal (Arizona, Georgia, and North Carolina). Even then, while such victories might have impressed the 1960s “hard men” that Mr. White referred to, under the current rules, the delegate totals that candidates like Ms. Harris can claim by winning their own state primaries present Ms. Klobuchar with a formidable challenge.
The persistent stream of stories since Sen. Klobuchar announced her candidacy, describing her abrasive treatment of her staff – coming at such an early stage in the campaign – seemingly underscores the importance to her of the early caucus and primary contests. Ms. Klobuchar’s “Minnesota Nice” image is one of her core strengths, and one or more of her opponents apparently sees that chipping away at that part of her appeal now may be the best way to cripple her candidacy. Again citing the observation of Finley Peter Dunne’s fictional Mr. Dooley [which I recognize that I could use 100 times in the next two years, but pledge to restrain myself ;)] : “… [P]olitics ain’t bean-bag.” More to come …