Klobuchar hopes for 'grace period' before 2012 campaign

Sen. Amy Klobuchar
In this file photo from May 2010, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar waves to the crowd during the 2010 DFL convention at the Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center in Duluth, Minn. Klobuchar is up for re-election in 2012.
MPR Photo/Derek Montgomery

Democrat Amy Klobuchar won a blowout victory in her first run for the U.S. Senate. Twenty-one months before her next election, she has about $1.6 million in the bank, a minimal campaign operation and no declared opponents.

That suits Minnesota's 50-year-old senior senator just fine.

In an interview with The Associated Press Friday, Klobuchar said she hopes for a "grace period" before the 2012 campaign season kicks off. Her race will have top statewide billing during a presidential year when the entire Legislature is also on the ballot. She won in 2006 with 58 percent of the vote, beating Republican Mark Kennedy by 20 points.

"If I just spent all my time worrying about who was going to run against me or campaigning, I wouldn't do my job, and so I am focused on my job," Klobuchar said, after touring computer labs and a machine shop at Anoka Technical College as she pushes a bipartisan bill aimed at improving the job market.

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She added: "There'll be an opponent, and you know, I'll just deal with it when it happens."

National and state Republicans have been attacking Klobuchar for a couple of months over her support for President Barack Obama's initiatives, including the economic stimulus, the health care overhaul and emissions control legislation.

The state GOP started a website, amyfacts.com, painting her as a far-left liberal and tying her voting record to Democratic Sen. Al Franken, who won his seat by 312 votes after an eight-month recount and court contest.

"Sen. Klobuchar, by voting with Al Franken with the liberals in the Senate, is going to make herself vulnerable in this race."

Meanwhile, Klobuchar's office regularly touts bipartisan bills and consumer-friendly issues she works on, ranging from food safety to anti-stalking laws. The former Hennepin County prosecutor has been all over Minnesota in the past month talking up the job bill, co-sponsored by Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass.

So far, there's no stampede of Minnesota Republicans eager to challenge her.

Former Sen. Norm Coleman ruled out a run earlier this week. Several other top Republicans, including former state Reps. Laura Brod and Marty Seifert, and Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek, told Minnesota Public Radio earlier this week they're not in, either.

State GOP Chairman Tony Sutton said Friday he doesn't expect Rep. Michele Bachmann to seek Klobuchar's seat, one of 23 that Democrats will be defending nationwide. Sutton said Bachmann "was very emphatic to me" that she wouldn't run for Senate next year.

Bachmann spokesman Sergio Gor didn't immediately respond to an e-mail message.

Still, Sutton said he expects a competitive race. He said GOP gains in the state Legislature and the 8th Congressional District in northeastern Minnesota and a close governor's race last year show the state has become friendlier to Republicans since Klobuchar's first race. He predicted that challengers will step forward in the next two to three months.

"Minnesota is not a gimme state for the Democrats," Sutton said. "And Sen. Klobuchar, by voting with Al Franken with the liberals in the Senate, is going to make herself vulnerable in this race."

Republican House Speaker Kurt Zellers acknowledged that Klobuchar won't be easy to beat.

"She's very popular. She's very nice. But there are also differences between the parties and some votes that have been taken that I think Republicans will disagree with," said Zellers, R-Maple Grove.

Klobuchar said her campaign ended last year with $1.6 million in the bank after raising and spending $9.5 million in her first race. She declined to speculate on who might step forward to challenge her or comment on potential opponents. She said she pays little heed to partisan attacks.

"You can call me whatever name you want. I've tried to not go by labels, but I'm going to just keep doing the work for our state," she said.

St. Olaf College political scientist Dan Hofrenning said Klobuchar will likely face a tougher climate for Democrats next year, compared to 2006, but she is a formidable candidate with a knack for avoiding political extremes.

"She has shown a uniquely strong ability to tack with constituents," Hofrenning said.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)