Klobuchar struggles in Nevada to maintain momentum

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Amy Klobuchar
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., speaks with members of the media after touring the Culinary Health Center on Feb. 14, 2020, in Las Vegas.
Patrick Semansky | AP Photo file

Sen. Amy Klobuchar is finding Nevada very different from New Hampshire.

Her third-place finish in the New Hampshire primary vaulted her into the top tier of candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination. Her fundraising exploded, allowing her campaign to have a substantial presence in TV ads in Nevada and to put 50 staffers in the state.

“After we saw the New Hampshire results, immediately you started seeing their team nationally pouring into the state," said Nevada State Assemblyman Edgar Flores, who chairs Nevada’s bipartisan Hispanic Legislative Caucus.

Flores, who’s not endorsing anyone in the Democratic presidential contest, said Klobuchar is doing all of the right things when it comes to voter outreach in Nevada, but that Klobuchar’s infusion of cash and attention in Nevada may have come too late.

Nevada State Assemblyman Edgar Flores.
Nevada State Assemblyman Edgar Flores chairs Nevada’s bipartisan Hispanic Legislative Caucus.
Mark Zdechlik | MPR News

“I see them very aggressively working. I don't know if it's going to be enough,” he said.

“Unfortunately, from my own anecdotal conversations in the community both as an immigration attorney and as an elected official, I still think that there's still more voter contact that needs to be done to get her name out there, particularly in the Latino and Latina community."

And in pivoting from mostly white Iowa and New Hampshire to Nevada, Klobuchar suffered a self-inflicted political wound when she was unable to name the president of Mexico in an interview with Telemundo.

Days later in front of a national audience of 20 million viewers, Klobuchar lost her cool during the debate in Las Vegas when Pete Buttigieg pressed her on her gaff.

“It's hard to say who won,” said University of Nevada, Las Vegas political science professor Dan Lee because there was so much confrontation.

It was not a high moment for Klobuchar, Lee said.

“It was somewhat mixed for — for actually a lot of the candidates, but for Klobuchar in particular.”

Still, Lee said he doubts the debate will hurt Klobuchar because so many people have voted early in the caucuses, nearly as many as voted in Nevada’s 2016 Democratic caucuses.

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Amy Klobuchar
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Amy Klobuchar speaks on stage during a primary night event at the Grappone Conference Center on Feb. 11, 2020, in Concord, N.H.
Scott Eisen | Getty Images file

What might be more problematic for Klobuchar among nonwhite voters both in Nevada and in South Carolina, Lee said, is Klobuchar's record as a county prosecutor and the case of Myon Burrell, the black teenager who was sentenced to life in prison on evidence which is being questioned.

And there’s a vote Klobuchar cast in the Senate 15 years ago that would have made English the official language of the United States. In many places in Nevada there are more signs in Spanish than in English.

“Stories like that of those kinds of votes certainly don’t help paint her in the most positive light as well as the stories coming out about her work as a prosecutor back in Hennepin County,” Lee said. “It just makes it harder for her to build a picture where she can appeal to a more diverse electorate.”

Klobuchar returns to her home ground after the Nevada caucuses. She has a Saturday evening event in Minneapolis to meet with volunteers and will be in Fargo, N.D., Sunday morning for an appearance at North Dakota State University.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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