Amy Klobuchar's savvy sense of humor has done more than win legislative victories during her two years in the Senate. It's also put some gloss on what has been an odd predicament both for her and the state of Minnesota.
Klobuchar, a Democrat, has now served more than 100 days as the state's only senator, courtesy of the protracted recount fight between former Republican Sen. Norm Coleman and Democrat Al Franken. She reacts to the situation with a blend of wit and lament, joking about putting a loft in her office for additional interns to handle a workload that increased so much she had to install extra phone lines.
"These aren't just people calling saying, 'Vote this way, vote that way,'" Klobuchar said. "We have people with veterans problems, people with passport problems — they need help. Last year I think we saved 17 brides' honeymoons and lost one, so there's work to do."
As for her own workload: "I obviously have a lot more calls and a lot more meetings."
'Wit is an asset'
To be sure, being the only senator from the Land of 10,000 Lakes has its perks. In February, Klobuchar wowed the Washington Press Club's congressional dinner by snapping off one-liners at the expense of Vice President Joe Biden, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and Rep. Barney Frank, the gay Massachusetts Democrat. For the occasion, she tweaked a regular yarn about raising campaign cash from ex-boyfriends.
"I may have the record in the Senate," she quipped, "but in the House that record is held by Barney Frank."
Klobuchar's fellow senators say her brand of wit is an asset.
"I can tell you, she's got a pretty sharp whip," said Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., who calls Klobuchar a friend and has worked with her on energy issues.
"Her self-deprecating humor allows her to put people at ease around her. They're comfortable with her," said Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo. "And then she buzzes right past them with her intellect."
Klobuchar attributes her calm approach to seeing her family every day. Her husband, who is an active participant in the Senate spouses' club, and teenage daughter moved to northern Virginia after Klobuchar won her Senate seat in 2006. She says their presence gives her needed balance.
"That's probably why I've been able to do the single-senator thing, is by juggling," Klobuchar said. "By being here with that different background."
Klobuchar has been careful to stay out of the contentious fight between Franken and Coleman. A special three-judge panel in Minnesota recently declared Franken the leading vote-getter, but Coleman has vowed to fight on with an appeal to the Minnesota Supreme Court and a possible appeal in federal court.
Klobuchar says she is focused on her work and helping to implement President Barack Obama's agenda. This year, she picked up a new assignment, joining the Senate Judiciary Committee.
"I think this is a time for courage. We're going to take some votes where there aren't going to be parades when I go home," she said. "The stimulus package, you know, people aren't really fans of that. Some of the war votes. ... I think we're going to have some tough decisions."
Carrying the Obama agenda in the Senate is a natural transition. Some of Klobuchar's earliest forays into national politics came when she hit the hustings for Obama in her home state during the Republican National Convention.
Stepping out in St. Paul took some coaxing from an unusual source. Vin Weber, a former GOP congressman from Minnesota, made her see it was her time to shine, she said.
"I said, 'What am I going to do during the convention? Should I maybe just stay for the opening day and then go around the state?'" Klobuchar recalled. "Vin said, 'No. You're going to be there every day. This is an opportunity.'"
Her friend McCaskill was glad to see it. As an early endorser of Obama in the primary, McCaskill tried to push Klobuchar to endorse early on but found she was making little headway. "Her endorsement was late," McCaskill said bluntly.
Though stymied, McCaskill saw it as a testament to another attribute she admires. "Nobody is ever going to get her to do anything until her mind's made up," McCaskill said.