Underdog Klobuchar Scrambles in Nevada After Late Start

(Bloomberg) -- Amy Klobuchar, propelled by momentum built up by her New Hampshire breakout, may be hitting a wall in Nevada.

The Democratic presidential candidate arrived in Las Vegas last week basking in her surprise third place finish in the Granite State. But she met a different landscape and different electorate in Nevada, where she was late to the game.

Klobuchar faces a tough fight in Nevada, where success usually requires extensive -- and expensive -- organizing. Riding a fundraising bounce after New Hampshire, she hired key state staff only a week before the Nevada caucuses on Saturday. Klobuchar’s momentum landed at a critical point in the race, with many of her top rivals either outspending or outmaneuvering her campaign as she tries to catch up.

“It had been very quiet,” David Hatton, former President of the Sun City Anthem community Democratic club in Las Vegas said about Klobuchar’s outreach efforts. “It was very hard for us to understand her, who she was and what her message was about. But now you can feel it.”

Klobuchar is pitching herself as an alternative to moderates Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg and Michael Bloomberg, but the divided centrist field is giving Bernie Sanders a boost. Polls in Nevada show Sanders and Biden at the top, with Klobuchar stuck in sixth place, behind Elizabeth Warren, Buttigieg and Tom Steyer.

(Bloomberg is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News.)

Underdog Klobuchar Scrambles in Nevada After Late Start

A critical component to winning a state as big as Nevada is organizing, and Klobuchar just got started. During the fall, her team had only two staffers in Las Vegas and the campaign opened an office in Reno about two weeks ago. Just this week, Klobuchar announced she was hiring for crucial roles in the state, including a communications director and a regional organizing director. Her rivals had spent months building out solid teams.

Within the past week, Klobuchar has ramped up her efforts to win over state voters. She deployed about 50 staffers from New Hampshire to Nevada. The campaign announced a $12 million fundraising haul over 10 days, almost half of what Klobuchar raised in all of 2019. The influx of money allowed the campaign to spend money on TV and advertising in the state, including one in Spanish.

But campaigning didn’t always go as planned. She canceled an appearance at a fundraiser in San Francisco last minute, citing a cold. A Klobuchar town hall on Tuesday, to which she was 50 minutes late, drew about 60 people in the same venue where Buttigieg drew about 1,000. Though at a better-organized event in Reno, her campaign had to look for a larger venue after she drew about 1,000 people, similar to Warren and Sanders.

Klobuchar had her eyes set on Wednesday’s debate, banking on another strong performance for a boost out of Nevada. But her newfound momentum made her a target for moderators and rivals alike. Warren tore into Klobuchar’s health care plan, dismissing it as an insubstantial “post-it note.” Klobuchar got a lot of air time but spent most of the night on the defensive and bickering with Buttigieg over experience. At the end of the night she notably did not shake his hand.

“I think this state is wide open and these voters are undecided, so a lot of them are going to remember that debate and she came in with a strong message,” said Donna West, the chairwoman of the Clark County Democratic Party. “People here are paying attention to that but the secret to winning in Nevada is constantly organizing and talking about the issues.”

Ahead of the debate, Klobuchar met with members of the Culinary Workers Union, Nevada’s largest and most politically influential labor group, joining them at a picket line outside the Palms Casino Resort. After wrapping up a tour of their union-run health care center in Las Vegas Friday, Klobuchar assailed her rivals’ vision for Medicare for All. Those plans would eliminate private health insurance, a big fear for union members who have fought hard to negotiate their quality health care.

Klobuchar said that “149 million Americans would lose their current health insurance in four years and that includes these culinary workers who are using this facility. So I don’t think we should be blowing it up.”

A sizable portion of the electorate in Nevada is Latino and polls have shown Klobuchar struggling with minority voters. Her efforts to woo them were not helped last week when she failed to identify President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of Mexico during an interview with Telemundo news. She was defensive about the slip during the debate Wednesday, calling it an “error.”

Her increased visibility has also surfaced concerns about Klobuchar’s record as a prosecutor, particularly involving the case of an African-American teen jailed for life amid questionable evidence. The moderators pressed Klobuchar at the debate.

“It is very clear that any evidence, if there is new evidence, even old evidence, it should be reviewed by that office and by the county attorney,” Klobuchar said. “That must happen. I have called for that review.”

Even if she does well in Nevada, Klobuchar’s biggest challenges may lie ahead. South Carolina and Super Tuesday are coming on fast. This week, Klobuchar announced that she had placed staff in all 13 states that vote March 3 to increase outreach efforts. The campaign also spent seven figures on advertising in Alabama, Arkansas, Maine, Virginia and Tennessee.

The campaign also said it sent about 25 staffers to South Carolina this week, giving her a week to organize in a state where a majority of the Democratic electorate is African American, a group that has shown her little support so far.

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