Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar has announced her intention to run for president, entering a crowded national field that's gathering well before the 2020 election.
But long before she announced her candidacy to take over the Oval Office, Klobuchar made her way up the political ladder, one rung of which was a race for a Senate seat against current UND President Mark Kennedy. In 2006, Klobuchar took on then-U.S. Rep. Kennedy in an election that gave Klobuchar her first of three terms in the Senate and put her on a track as a rising force in the Democratic Party.
David Schultz, a professor of political science at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minn., said the political atmosphere in 2006 was not favorable for Republicans. In that election Democrats took back the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate, and also won a majority of governorships and state legislatures from the Republican Party. The election came halfway into President George W. Bush's second term in office, when his approval ratings were falling amid the war in Iraq.
"It was very difficult waters to swim in 2006 if you just happened to be in the same party with a president who at that point was not as popular as he was when he was elected," Kennedy said.
Kennedy last week told the Herald that he and Klobuchar are on "very good terms." In fact, Kennedy said Klobuchar came to his going-away party when he left George Washington University to come to UND. Also, she has spoken at the Economic Club of Minnesota, of which Kennedy is the volunteer chairman.
Kennedy emphasizes that, as the president of UND, he does not have an opinion on presidential candidates for the 2020 race.
Schultz said Kennedy did well representing his congressional district, but also said Kennedy faced a difficult race because of state voter demographics. Kennedy hailed from a conservative congressional district, but Minnesota Senate races are statewide elections and Minnesota, Schultz notes, is rather liberal.
Klobuchar won the race, garnering 58 percent of the vote, while Kennedy took 38 percent of the ballots. Schultz considers it Klobuchar's most difficult Senate race. Since then, she has won two additional Senate terms, with large winning margins.
Following the election, Kennedy called to congratulate Klobuchar on her victory, Minnesota Public Radio reported.
"I do believe that in the end this is a race that is not our year. I called Ms. Klobuchar to congratulate her on her victory," Kennedy said to a group of his supporters that Election Day. "Even though the results are not what we wanted, there is no shame in defeat. There is only shame if we don't fight. We fought hard. We fought through the line, we fought a good campaign."
Laying the groundwork
Don Davis, longtime Minnesota statehouse reporter, wasn't directly covering the 2006 Senate race, but recalls having conversations with colleagues and initially thinking Klobuchar's run was a surprise. Davis recently retired from Forum News Service.
Looking back, Davis says Klobuchar's rise to the Senate wasn't at all surprising. She was president of the county attorneys association in the state. She traveled extensively throughout Minnesota, speaking to local news media while she was there. She got her name out to the people of Minnesota long before she or anyone else knew she intended to run for a federal office.
"She had been laying the groundwork for the Senate run for some time," he said. "It wasn't like she announced it and then all of the sudden started running it."
Lori Sturdevant, who recently retired from a career as a Minneapolis Star Tribune columnist and editorial writer, said one thing that stands out in her mind about Klobuchar's campaign style is how hard she works. For example, Klobuchar visits every Minnesota county to talk to her constituents.
"She has an incredible tenacity and a willingness to be everywhere," she said.
Klobuchar had other advantages during that first Senate run, Schultz said. She was already well known in Hennepin County, Minnesota's largest county, as the county attorney. And it didn't hurt that her father, Jim Klobuchar, was a columnist for many years at the Star Tribune.
"I think (having that name recognition) helped her. I think coming from a large county helped her, (and) campaigning in every county in the state helped her," Schultz said.
Still, Schultz calls her 2006 campaign "perfectly executed."
"She did a great job at posturing herself as the moderate, posturing herself as someone who could reach out to everybody across the state," he said. "I think all of that was absolutely brilliant. I just don't know how she translates all of that to a national stage."
Klobuchar was ahead in the polls for virtually the entire race, despite Kennedy's fundraising abilities, according to news reports at the time. Klobuchar maintained a double-digit lead throughout, including a 10-point advantage during the final week of the race, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported.
Leading up to the election, Klobuchar ran a commercial outlining her fight for new mothers to stay in the hospital a second night after giving birth. Schultz said the 30-second spot was "one of the single greatest political commercials" he had "ever seen" in Minnesota.
"It's a brilliant commercial," he said. "If you're female you understand why and if you're male you're totally clueless. She was able to talk about women's issues in a way that heavily mobilized suburban women."
One Kennedy ad focused on his uniqueness as a congressman who is not a lawyer. The television commercial featured his parents, brothers, kids and wife, Debbie. The ad took a jab at Klobuchar, who touted her credentials as Hennepin County attorney in her first ad.
"Mark's not a lawyer. The Senate's got enough of those already," his brothers said.
The war in Iraq was an issue during the 2006 election cycle, and it came to the forefront when Kennedy and Klobuchar were on a national stage-the television program "Meet the Press."
About five minutes in, the show's moderator, Tim Russert, focused on the candidates' differing opinions on Iraq. Kennedy favored strategy adjustments, but reiterated his staunch support of the military, as well as a military presence in Iraq until "after we are assured the terrorists can't win." Klobuchar favored "changing course in Iraq," which she called "a civil war."
Kennedy, speaking directly to Russert, said "When you say the solution, as Ms. Klobuchar says, is diplomatic and political, you can't negotiate with people that are ruthless and glory in killing innocent women and children. We need to make sure that terrorists can't win, so we can bring our troops home as quickly as possible."
"No matter how long it takes?" Russert asked.
"We need to make sure the terrorists can't win. We can't let Iraq become a sanctuary for terrorists," Kennedy answered, before discussing a series of other potential steps.
Klobuchar countered that "this is just more of the same, more of the same with this administration and more of the same with Congressman Kennedy." She then inserted a few Minnesota anecdotes likely gathered from her trips across the state.
"I just heard (then-Sen.) Trent Lott a few weeks ago. The press asked him, 'what do you think about Iraq?' He said to reporters, 'you are the only ones obsessing about Iraq. Real people, in the real world, aren't obsessing about Iraq.'
"Well I guess he didn't talk to the mom up in Mahnomen, Minn., whose child is going on his second tour of Iraq and she can't sleep anymore. Or (the man) in western Minnesota who has driven hundreds of miles to come to our events, and every time he cries when someone asks a question about Iraq because his child was killed over there. These are real people in the real world looking for solutions. And the way to get this right for the troops is to give them the equipment they deserve, but also to get this policy right and to admit that we need to change course. Not do anything radical and not bring all the troops home right away, but to pursue a diplomatic and political solution. I don't think it's right for Congressman Kennedy to criticize me for that when members of his own party and experts in this area are saying the same thing."
Run for president
When he was a reporter, Davis said he often asked Klobuchar if she aspired to be president. He sees a similarity between the first time Klobuchar ran for Senate, after years of spending time around the state, and her run for president, after spending years doing speaking engagements across the county.
"Whether she was going to run or not, she's in demand as a speaker," Davis said. "So it looks a little bit like when she ran for Senate. She has been around the country, spoken all over the place and she doesn't publicize where she's been."
Klobuchar doesn't have as much name recognition across the country and she's not coming from a highly populated state with a heavy media market, Schultz said.
He said the highly polarized political environment may not play well for Klobuchar, who is viewed as a centrist Democrat by many. Schultz notes that in 2016 Hillary Clinton ran on a similar idea, but it still didn't get her the presidency.
"I sort of view our political system now as so intensely polarized that I really do wonder if any Republican can earn Democratic votes or if any Democrat can win Republican votes," he said.