Still no strong 2024 GOP challenger for Amy Klobuchar

Published 6:12 pm Thursday, August 31, 2023

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By Mark Zdechlik, Minnesota Public Radio News

Even though 2023 isn’t an election year, Amy Klobuchar has been spending a lot of time at the Minnesota State Fair.

Voters seem to appreciate it.

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“We love you,” said one fairgoer.

“Senator, I just want to say thank you for what you do,” said another.

Klobuchar said she thinks of the fair as Minnesota’s largest town hall meeting.

“I like it because I talk to people that wouldn’t normally call or text or email the office,” Klobuchar said. “Of course, they’re not going to come out to Washington, so I get to meet them where they are. And I get all kinds of comments but a lot of ideas, and that’s what’s important.”

For example, Klobuchar said a fairgoer inspired her to pursue legislation to address prescription drug shortages.

Next year will be an election year, and after an unsuccessful run for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020, Klobuchar is poised to seek a fourth term in the Senate.

She has been the most popular statewide candidate in either party. In her first run in 2006, Klobuchar defeated her Republican opponent by more than 20 percentage points. She widened that margin to nearly 35 points when she was reelected in 2012. And she won handily again in 2018, the last time she was up for reelection.

Although three candidates have filed paperwork to run as Republicans against Klobuchar in next year’s election, none reported raising any money through the last reporting period that ended in June.

Klobuchar posted nearly $3.5 million in campaign cash, and she said she’s ready for a formidable challenger to emerge.

“Whoever my opponent is, I will welcome them to the race and make my case for what I’ve gotten done; number one for bipartisan bills out of 100 senators, number three for passing bills out of 100 senators, and I just figure my job right now is to represent the state and have the backs of the people of Minnesota.”

David Hann, who chairs the Republican Party of Minnesota, did not respond to an interview request for this story.

But in July, Hann told MPR News he was working to identify a viable challenger to Klobuchar and had hoped to have someone by this time.

“A U.S. Senate campaign against Amy Klobuchar is a challenge, but we expect a good candidate to run against Amy Klobuchar,” Hann said. And I’m not going to give you names of people I’m talking to, but with various people, and I think we’ll end up with a good candidate.”

DFL Party Chair Ken Martin said even if a viable Republican does not emerge to challenge Klobuchar, he’s convinced she’ll mount an aggressive campaign. He said that will help Democrats at all levels in Minnesota.

“Amy Klobuchar, when she’s on the ballot, is always the top vote-getter in the state, and she helps all of our candidates up and down the ballot,” Martin said. “And I would argue, you know, in both 2012 and 2018, she had relatively unknown challengers, yet, Senator Klobuchar worked tirelessly across the state campaigning up and down to help us win legislative seats.”

One sign that she’s taking nothing for granted is Klobuchar’s Minnesota travel schedule. Klobuchar said she’s visited 25 counties in the past month and will have visited all 87 Minnesota counties within the next couple of months.

Michael Minta, a University of Minnesota political science professor, said there’s no question that taking on Klobuchar is a formidable challenge for any Republican, given her popularity and ability to raise a lot of campaign money.

Still, Minta said anything can happen in politics. He sees President Joe Biden’s low approval ratings as the biggest threat to Klobuchar.

“If the incumbent president and the party is just a drag on the ticket, it’s possible it could depress voter turnout,” Minta said. “And if Republicans are highly motivated, then it’s very possible that some challenger will emerge and try to take advantage of it.”