To quote the late baseball icon Yogi Berra, “It’s getting late early.” For a host of Democratic presidential candidates that’s been the case for some time, but now, with the Iowa caucuses little more than three weeks away, that also applies to the presidential aspirations of Minnesota U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar.
Klobuchar has surged a bit recently, raising $11.4 million in the last quarter of 2019, almost twice as much as she had brought in since she announced her candidacy. However, national polls show her to be the choice of just 2 percent of Democrats to be their presidential nominee. In Iowa and New Hampshire, recent polling shows her at 7 percent, which puts her solidly in fifth place behind Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, former Vice President Joe Biden and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
The problem is, fifth place isn’t going to cut it. Sanders, Buttigieg and Biden are polling in a dead heat with 23% each in the Hawkeye State and Sanders leads Biden 27% to 25% in New Hampshire. One of those three or possibly Warren will grab most of the publicity coming out of those two states, but then the carnival moves on to Nevada and South Carolina. Without a “surprise” showing by Klobuchar or the 10 other candidates still in the race, the field could quickly narrow to three or four.
The numbers are telling. Even if Klobuchar attracted all of the undecideds plus the votes of everyone supporting someone other than the quartet polling ahead of her, she would still be in fifth place in Iowa with 15 percent, and fourth place in New Hampshire with 17 percent.
I thought Klobuchar would make a good candidate for the Democrats. Given Biden’s and Buttigieg’s age issues plus Biden’s Ukrainian corruption issue, she’s probably the most electable. She’s taken the “moderate” label in the presidential contest, but that’s just “moderate” in the sense that she isn’t swilling in the “free stuff for everyone” trough where Sanders and Warren are wallowing. She’s still a loyal Democrat who sticks closely to the party line. The difference is that she recognizes that politics is about the art of the possible, and making promises one will never be able to keep leads quickly to a disillusioned electorate.
It appears Klobuchar is still in good shape in Minnesota. As of Jan. 1, she had raised more than $2.3 million in the state, which is more than all the other Democratic candidates in the field combined (excluding the late entrants, former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg and ex-Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick). If she were to lose the Minnesota primary, however, her campaign would end.
As it is, Sanders and Warren both drew large crowds when they appeared in the state a few months ago, and the leaders of the DFL’s socialist/communist wing, Attorney General Keith Ellison and 5th District U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, are both backing Sanders.
Nevertheless, Buttigieg ($343,257), Sanders ($299,465) and Warren ($220,445) have all taken a significant chunk of change out of the Gopher State.
The real problem for Klobuchar will come after Iowa and New Hampshire. As of Jan. 1, she had only $3.7 million cash on hand, which was less than all Democratic candidates except Hawaii U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard ($2.1 million) and the self-funded Tom Steyer ($2.6 million) and Maryland U.S. Rep. John Delaney ($548,061). Cash on hand doesn’t mean much to self-funders like Steyer, Delaney and Bloomberg, because their personal fortunes give them plenty in reserve; it’s crucial to others.
Even Biden, with $9 million in cash, is in trouble if he doesn’t show well in Iowa and New Hampshire. The three candidates with war chests large enough to make it to the convention are Sanders with $33.8 million, Warren with $25.7 million and Buttigieg with $23.4 million. By contrast, California U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris dropped out of the race even though she had $10.5 million in cash on hand.
Opportunities still present themselves for someone to differentiate themselves in the Democratic field. When the killing of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani was announced last week, none of them came out in support of the United States. Sanders, who once filed as a conscientious objector but now wants to be commander-in-chief, said killing Soleimani was equivalent to Vladimir Putin assassinating political dissidents. Get a grip, Bernie.
The reality is that nothing has changed for 40 years ever since the apocalyptic Islamic regime took power in Iran and held U.S. diplomats hostage for 444 days. The Iranian regime has been exporting terrorism and its brand of Shi’ism around the globe. The West has too long behaved as if it is dealing with rational actors; these religious zealots believe that nuking non-believers is OK in spite of any collateral damage that may occur since martyrdom leads directly to paradise.
The Dems want to oust Trump, but the killing of Soleimani makes one wonder: Would any of them be willing to stand up to Iranian terrorism? To change the equation in the Democratic field, someone needs to do something besides preach isolationism and harrumph that Congress wasn’t consulted. Iran is not going away, but many of them are, and soon, if they don’t recognize the need to change the equation.
Tom West, now retired, is the former general manager of this paper. Reach him at email@example.com.