WASHINGTON – Surely the silliest aspirant for the Democrats’ 2020 presidential nomination is already known: “Beto,” aka Robert Francis, O’Rourke is a skateboarding man-child whose fascination with himself caused him to live-stream a recent dental appointment for – open-wide, please – teeth cleaning. His journal about his post-election recuperation-through-road-trip-to-nowhere-in-particular is so without wit or interesting observations that it merits Truman Capote’s description of “On the Road” author Jack Kerouac’s work: That’s not writing, that’s typing.
When Democrats are done flirting with such insipidity, their wandering attentions can flit to a contrastingly serious candidacy, coming soon from Minnesota. The land of 10,000 lakes and four unsuccessful presidential candidates (Harold Stassen, Hubert Humphrey, Eugene McCarthy, Walter Mondale) now has someone who could break the state’s losing streak. Sen. Amy Klobuchar is the person perhaps best equipped to send the current president packing.
To get the boring part over with, she satisfies the 2020 Chromosome Criterion: The Democratic nominating electorate is disproportionately female and eager to achieve what they came tantalizingly close to in 2016, a female president. Now, about politics and policy.
She is from a state contiguous with Iowa, whose caucuses might, or might not, be as big a deal in 2020 as they have been since Jimmy Carter’s 1976 success in them propelled him toward the presidency. (Early voting for California’s March 3 primary, in which probably 11 percent of delegates to the Democratic National Convention will be allocated, begins the day of Iowa’s caucuses, so some candidates might slight Iowa in order to court California.) Minnesota also borders Wisconsin, one of the three Rust Belt states (the others are Michigan and Pennsylvania) that Donald Trump took that had voted Democratic in at least six consecutive presidential elections. She is from the Midwest, where Democrats need help in Michigan (Trump carried it by just 0.3 percent of the vote), Iowa (Trump by 9 percentage points), Ohio (Trump by 9 points).
Minnesota has voted Democratic in 11 consecutive presidential elections (since it spurned George McGovern, from neighboring South Dakota, in 1972). It has more electoral votes (10) than such swing states as New Hampshire (4), Iowa (6), Nevada (6) and Colorado (9). But Minnesota’s blueness has been fading: Barack Obama defeated Mitt Romney by 8 percentage points in 2012, but four years later Hillary Clinton defeated Trump by just 1.5 points.
Klobuchar, who will be 59 in May, is the daughter of a newspaper columnist. Surmounting this handicap, she went to Yale, then to the University of Chicago Law School, then to a law firm. Then to a maternity ward, where she was provoked: Her infant daughter had a serious problem, but the rule at the time was that new mothers should be out of the hospital in 24 hours, which kindled her interest in public policy. After a stint as the elected prosecuting attorney of Hennepin County (Minneapolis), she won an open Senate seat in 2006. Last year she won a third term by a 24-point margin.
Her state has a significant farming population and agribusiness (e.g., Cargill, General Mills, Land O’Lakes, Hormel), so she has had practice speaking to populations and interests that Democrats need, and speaking against trade wars in which farmers quickly become collateral damage. She has become informed about what could be one of the most salient issues in 2020 — the high costs of prescription drugs. In the Almanac of American Politics’ most recent (2015) vote rankings, she was the 27th most liberal senator, liberal enough to soothe other liberals without annoying everyone else.
As the bidding war for the affection of the Democratic left spirals into inanity — “Abolish ICE!”; “70 percent marginal tax rate!”;”Impeach the president!”; “Pack the Supreme Court!”; “Medicare for all!”; “Free college!”; “Free other stuff!” — Klobuchar is the potential top-tier candidate most apt to resist forfeiting the general election while winning the nomination.
Her special strength, however, is her temperament. Baseball, it has been said, is not a game you can play with your teeth clenched. That is also true of politics, another day-by-day game with a long season: It requires an emotional equipoise, a blend of relaxation and concentration, stamina leavened by cheerfulness. Klobuchar laughs easily and often. If the nation wants an angry president, it can pick from among the many seething Democratic aspirants, or can keep the one president it has. If, however, it would like someone to lead a fatigued nation in a long exhale, it can pick a Minnesotan, at last.