Amy Klobuchar has an unusual constituency behind her as she launches her run for president: Senate Republicans.
In a Democratic caucus filled with presidential hopefuls taking a hard line against Donald Trump’s presidency, the Minnesota senator’s brand of pragmatic politics stands out. And numerous Republicans are raving about Klobuchar — her personality, her respect for the other party, even her competitiveness in a general election.
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In fact, a dozen GOP senators were so effusive in interviews this month that some worried they might damage her candidacy in a Democratic nomination fight that has many candidates embracing the party’s left flank.
“I hope I’m not condemning her nascent run for the presidency,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) as he praised Klobuchar. “She’s too reasonable, too likable, too nice.”
“She wants to achieve a solution and I would hope that’s not a disqualifying thing for someone who would like to be president,” said Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), who runs the Senate Rules Committee with Klobuchar. “I like her a lot and hope that’s not harmful to her.”
The three-term senator is certainly no Joe Manchin. Klobuchar reliably votes with her party when it comes to big issues like abortion and immigration. She’s embraced progressives’ ambitious “Green New Deal” and is rarely a headache for Democratic leadership. But she’s also established herself as someone who can cut deals with Republicans and occasionally tacks to the center. It’s a combination that that could give her a boost among primary voters seeking a candidate with bipartisan bona fides if it doesn’t doom her with a party moving quickly to the left.
In a brief interview Klobuchar made clear that she doesn’t compromise just for compromise’s sake but acknowledged it’s something she actively seeks out as a senator.
“Oftentimes I’ll stand my ground,” she said. “But if I can find common ground to get something done, I do.”
Last year, she reached an agreement with Blunt to combat sexual harassment on Capitol Hill that drew some ire from liberals. And she’s never bought into purity contests, finding herself at odds with other presidential candidates on surveillance issues, a budget deal and some Trump nominees like Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.
Klobuchar also was the Democratic presidential aspirant most intimately involved with a centrist Senate effort last year to address the plight of hundreds of thousands of young, undocumented immigrants. She was in a series of meetings intended to forge a bipartisan immigration deal that ultimately came up short. Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.). said Klobuchar was one of the “more reasonable voices” in the room.
“She’s a person of character and great ability,” said Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), a fellow negotiator. “She’s the whole package. That’s probably too nice.”
It’s not just on major legislation where Klobuchar collaborates with the GOP. She runs the Congressional Coalition on Adoption with Blunt and has teamed with Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) on combating eating disorders and expanding rural broadband. She’s worked with conservative Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) on improving a bridge between their two states and pushed through legislation with Tillis to help treat veterans exposed to toxic burn pits in combat zones.
Beyond her ideology and legislative acumen, Klobuchar offers a stylistic contrast from the sharp-edged politics of Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and the attention-grabbing inquisitions of Sens. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.).
Republicans say that Klobuchar was one of the Democrats on the Judiciary Committee who was most respectful when questioning Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh last year about sexual assault allegations, even as Klobuchar found herself being asked by the nominee whether she had a drinking problem. But befitting her “Minnesota nice” style, Klobuchar moved on and didn’t linger on the confrontation.
“Her questioning [on] the Judiciary Committee is excellent,” said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine). “Her questions can be thoughtful and respectful. Still probing, they’re not easy, but it’s a good model.”
“Of the folks that are running, she’s probably more responsible,” said Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.).
Klobuchar’s Republican pals say that her political abilities would be imposing in a general election against Trump, noting her strong appeal in the Midwest — the region that tipped the presidency to Trump in 2016.
Some Democrats are “going to be looking for somebody that is actually going to be electable in a general election. And I think it’s a spot she could fill,” said Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), the GOP whip.
“I don’t like to give Democrats advice but they’ve got to be able to carry the Midwest,” Collins said.
It’s not just Republican senators who are fans. George Will, a conservative columnist for the Washington Post, penned an op-ed recently that described Klobuchar as “the person perhaps best equipped to send the current president packing,” pointing to her Midwest roots as an asset for Democrats and praising her even-keeled temperament.
However, Klobuchar’s “Minnesota nice” reputation has taken a hit in recent days amid multiple reports she has mistreated staff.
Regardless, the very qualities that have earned Klobuchar so much love on the right could be liabilities in a Democratic primary.
Cornyn said Klobuchar “doesn’t strike me as ideological enough to be competitive.” Tillis said she has a “legitimately centrist argument to make but she’s going to find herself in a field that’s going to out-liberal themselves.”
“She’ll probably have a pretty hard time in the nominating process,” Thune acknowledged.
Yet Democrats aren’t so sure. For one, many Democrats believe Klobuchar, former Vice President Joe Biden or Montana Gov. Steve Bullock could all offer a compelling contrast to the more liberal candidates in the field.
Members of her caucus say Klobuchar is results-driven, which inevitably means embracing bipartisanship.
“She’s someone that’s more oriented toward getting some things done. And in order to do that you’ve got to work with both sides. That’s the arithmetic around here,” said Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), who caucuses with the Democrats.
And in early states, bipartisanship might not be a dirty word. Even as New Hampshire keeps electing Democrats to Congress, the Granite State also has a popular GOP governor — and allows undeclared voters to participate in either party’s primary.
“We like our leaders to work together,” said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.). “That’s probably the No. 1 concern I hear when I go around the state … ‘Why can’t you all work together to address the challenges facing this country?’”