I know a lot of pundits who watched the Friday night debate thought Amy Klobuchar had the strongest night. I agree with that assessment. But I think the increasing talk of “Klo-mentum” reflects a growing desire among media and Democratic elites to see her become a candidate with a realistic shot, not the Minnesota senator actually becoming a candidate with a realistic shot.
The theory that justifies the bid of most long shot candidates is that almost everyone is underestimating just how many supporters they have, and they’ll have one surprise win, which will get more people to reconsider their options and fuel the next surprise win, which will have a domino effect through the primaries. This happens, it just doesn’t happen often. And each time a campaign fails to get that initial surprise win, the uphill climb ahead gets a little steeper.
Right before Christmas, we saw the Politico headline: “’The surge is real’: Klobuchar makes late push in Iowa.”
To the extent we can feel confident in the announced Iowa results, Klobuchar won 12.3 percent or so of the votes in the first round — nothing to sneeze at! That finish is pretty darn good for a candidate who began the cycle with almost no name recognition. But that total is also fifth place, and Klobuchar got one delegate out of Iowa.
The good news is that Klobuchar indeed appears to have closed strongly in New Hampshire . . . right around the 15 percent delegate threshold, anywhere from third to fifth place, depending on how Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren finish. Klobuchar could finish third tonight and generate a lot of buzz.
But in the limited polling we have in Nevada, Klobuchar is seventh, behind Andrew Yang. And in South Carolina, she’s eighth, behind Tulsi Gabbard. Maybe if Biden quit the race, a lot of not-openly-Socialist Democrats would be shopping around for a new candidate, and Klobuchar could pick up a bunch of supporters. But at this point, Biden sounds like he’s staying in the race until at least South Carolina.
Three days after South Carolina is Super Tuesday: fourteen states, deciding 1,344 delegates. The good news for Klobuchar is that one of them is Minnesota, and she should have a leg up on winning a majority of the state’s 75 delegates. But beyond that, it’s slim pickings for a candidate who hasn’t had the resources to build a big organization in every state. Nationally, Klobuchar is in sixth place, averaging just below 5 percent. She’s a distant seventh in California.
In the coming weeks, Klobuchar is probably going to experience the painful gap between “beating expectations” and “winning outright.” The problem with respectable third place finishes is that there’s two other rivals ahead of you, and it is almost impossible to get the nomination that way.
To win the nomination, Klobuchar needs to do well tonight, enjoy a huge surge in Nevada or South Carolina or both, see a spontaneous emergence of supporters in Super Tuesday states, preferably have a rival or two drop out, get a giant infusion of funds, and be ready to fight Bernie Sanders and Mike Bloomberg the rest of the way, because neither one has any reason to quit. Maybe if Klobuchar shocks the world and comes in second tonight, all of this starts to look doable.
Oh, and Politico’s new headline is, “Klobuchar roars into contention on eve of New Hampshire primary.”