U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota is quietly gearing up to run for re-election in 2012. Klobuchar, a first-term Democrat, may not be in full-on campaign mode, but the signs are there about the kind of campaign she's planning to run.
In the past few months, Kobuchar has introduced a slew of bills. The proposed legislation would increase the use of renewable energy, protect members of the armed forces from sexual assault and ban the synthetic drug that killed a Minnesota teenager. All have Republican co-sponsors.
The intended message: Klobuchar works across party lines to help her constituents. That could explain why nearly 60 percent of Minnesotans approve of her performance.
"Whether that means sometimes standing with business or sometimes standing on the side of a consumer against a business, you do what you think is right," Klobuchar said. "That's what guides me, instead of the partisan politics."
Klobuchar, who is running for a second term, chooses causes that make sense, said Steven Smith, a political scientist at Washington University in St. Louis. That's because the Senate works on a seniority system and relatively new senators like Klobuchar are encouraged to grow into their role.
"I think she's shown a substantial agility in championing what you might consider to be the medium-sized causes," Smith said.
“She's a really nice person and she sounds reasonable ... but she votes with the liberals.”Tony Sutton, Minn. Republican Party chair
No Republican candidate has yet decided to challenge Klobuchar, but several are likely to announce their interest soon.
When they do, Klobuchar will be vulnerable because of her votes for President Obama's initiatives, including the health care overhaul and the stimulus, Minnesota Republican Party Chairman Tony Sutton said.
"She's a really nice person and she sounds reasonable," Sutton said. "But the fact of the matter is, it's not what she says, it's what she does. And when she goes to vote, she votes with the liberals."
A key question is whether Klobuchar can count on enough liberal support to counter GOP voters. Some liberals occasionally have problems with her votes.
The liberal blog ThinkProgress recently called Klobuchar one of 17 "Dirty Democrats" for her votes to exclude agriculture from Environmental Protection Agency greenhouse gas regulations.
U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, a fellow Democrat who has worked closely with Klobuchar on the Judiciary Committee, said Klobuchar takes each issue on its merits. That sets her apart from senators who arrive in Washington eager to deliver bumper sticker-like political slogans, he said.
"She would actually do all the hard work, which means getting both Republicans and Democrats to join with her, and the hard work of going to hearings and the debates listening to it and getting things passed," Leahy said.
Even some Republicans think Klobuchar will be hard to defeat next year. They include former U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman, who declined to run against her.
Another Republican, former U.S. Rep. Vin Weber, explains Klobuchar's appeal across the aisle.
"She's very attentive to Minnesota business," said Weber, a friend of the senator. "Not that she sells out her liberal beliefs. But if a company in Minnesota has a specific problem with the government, they know that they can come to Amy and get a good hearing, because she cares about employment."
Weber thinks Klobuchar could be tapped for a leadership post in the Senate if she wins a second term.
While Klobuchar says she's proud of her consumer protection work, she takes some credit for moving the budget debate in Washington forward.
Last year, she was one of a group of senators who pushed for the creation of the president's bipartisan deficit reduction commission -- though she did not serve on the panel.
Klobuchar said it was clear a crisis was coming.
"We could see that the debt was building, we could see that Washington was immobilized, paralyzed by this because no one wanted to make the tough decisions," she said. "We got that debt commission set up, and this is not just a dusty report on a shelf."
Klobuchar supports many of the commission's proposals, including one that would pare back the tax deduction on home mortgages -- but only for homes worth more than $500,000, which is well below the median home price in Minnesota.
Lacking a serious Republican challenger for now, Klobuchar said her focus is on serving the state.
"I think the people of Minnesota want a little bit of a grace period before the next campaign," she said. "But we always have vigorous campaigns in Minnesota, and I'm sure I'll have one too."