MINNEAPOLIS - U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., on Sunday, Feb. 10, announced her bid for president surrounded by thousands of supporters bundled up against the winter cold.
Against Minneapolis skyline blurred by heavy snowfall, Klobuchar, 58, became the latest to join a crowded Democratic field of candidates vying to win the party's nomination and take on President Donald Trump in 2020.
National polls show the third-term senator will have work to do in pulling ahead of the pack. But with a message of unity and Minnesota grit, Klobuchar said she was up to the task.
"As your president, I will look you in the eye. I will tell you what I think. I will focus on getting things done. That’s what I’ve done my whole life," Klobuchar said. "And no matter what, I’ll lead from the heart."
Democratic-Farmer-Labor leaders from around the state, including U.S. Sen. Tina Smith, Gov. Tim Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Smith threw their support behind Klobuchar on Sunday. Republican leaders, meanwhile, cast doubt on her ability to govern as the country's chief executive.
The announcement came days after national media outlets published stories casting Klobuchar as a boss who was overly tough on staff members who shared their stories anonymously.
A 'heartland' candidacy
Klobuchar delivered a message centered around unity and shared values, frequently referencing Minnesota's history and her family's ties to it. And she threw jabs at Trump, saying the sense of what brings communities together is being "worn down by the petty and vicious nature of our politics."
"We are all tired of the shutdowns and the putdowns, the gridlock and the grandstanding," Klobuchar said. "Our nation must be governed not from chaos but from opportunity. Not by wallowing over what’s wrong, but my marching inexorably toward what’s right."
In her opening message, Klobuchar aimed to brand herself as the "heartland" candidate, sharing her family's story of immigrating to the United States and settling in Minnesota, then working hard to provide for one another.
"I’m asking you to join us on this campaign. It’s a homegrown one," Klobuchar said. "I don’t have a political machine. I don’t come from money. But what I do have is this: I have grit. I have family. I have friends. I have neighbors. I have all of you who are willing to come out in the middle of the winter."
And fellow DFLers vouched for Klobuchar's ability to organize at the grassroots level.
"We've got the opportunity to replace chaos with courage. And I can tell you as someone who's run some pretty tough campaigns in Southern Minnesota's rural First District, there is nobody you want on the ballot more than Amy Klobuchar," Walz said. "We must win. We have to win this next election and all Amy Klobuchar does is win."
A winning history in Minnesota
Klobuchar grew up in the Twin Cities suburbs and went on to become Hennepin County attorney before launching her 2006 campaign for U.S. Senate. She has since posted substantial leads over her opponents, most recently besting Republican Jim Newberger by 24 percentage points in 2018.
Klobuchar and others have credited those wins to Klobuchar's efforts to get to each of the state's 87 counties on a regular basis and to her ability win over GOP voters.
But Republican leaders were skeptical about whether those wins could translate to the national stage.
“The concerns of Minnesotans are not necessarily the concerns of people in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida, Michigan, West Virginia, even Wisconsin,” Minnesota Republican Party Chair Jennifer Carnahan told the Forum News Service. “That is a huge leap and a bridge too far to make.”
Klobuchar developed a higher profile nationally last fall when she questioned then-Supreme Court hopeful Brett Kavanaugh about his drinking habits. She started the line of questioning by bringing up her father, who struggled with alcoholism, then entered a measured line of questions about Kavanaugh's use of alcohol and experiences with drinking to the point of blacking out.
"Did not America get to preview Amy's strength during the Supreme Court hearings?" Sen. Tina Smith said to loud cheers from attendees. "Amy showed that the rule of law should still matter and, as she said, the Constitution does not say, 'We the ruling party,' it says, "We the people.'"
Questions about staff mistreatment
Last week, the Huffington Post and BuzzFeed shared the stories of former Klobuchar staffers who said the senator was very tough on them, at times criticizing their performance in front of other staff members and becoming so angry she threw a binder. They also reported high levels of turnover among Klobuchar staff as compared to other senators. The staffers were quoted anonymously and others, who were named, rose to defend Klobuchar.
Republicans were quick to question whether someone with such a track record with staff could effectively run the White House. Others said the reports were sexist.
Klobuchar responded to questions about the reports Sunday.
"I can be tough. And yes, I can push people, I know that," Klobuchar said. "I have high expectations for myself. I have high expectations for this country."