Klobuchar looks to McCain example for independent boost in New Hampshire

While other Democratic presidential candidates tout their connections to Obama, Klobuchar is talking about her ties to figures like John McCain.
Image: Amy Klobuchar
Amy Klobuchar arrives to speak at "Our Rights, Our Courts" forum New Hampshire Technical Institute's Concord Community College, on Feb. 8, 2020, in Concord, N.H.Andrew Harnik / AP

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By Amanda Golden and Maura Barrett

MANCHESTER, N.H. — While other Democratic presidential candidates have played up their past connections to former President Barack Obama and other revered Democratic figures, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., is trying to win over independent and GOP-leaning voters here by highlighting her relationships with respected Republicans.

Former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., have both featured their connections with Obama in ads leading up to Tuesday's primary (as has former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is not competing in New Hampshire).

But on the campaign trail, Klobuchar often references her friendships with figures like the late Republican Senator John McCain — who left a legacy of reaching across the aisle — and Iowa Republican Senator Chuck Grassley.

And she pointedly praised Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, during Friday’s New Hampshire debate at Saint Anselm college, saying it took "courage" for him to cast his vote in favor of removing President Trump during the Senate's impeachment trial.

During the debate, Klobuchar pressed her appeal to the center. “I think we're better off with someone that has the receipts, someone that has actually won big time with Republicans and independents,” she argued. “I'm the only one up on this stage that has consistently won in red congressional districts.”

With Iowa behind her, Klobuchar has been leaning in to the McCain relationship especially in the final days leading up to the New Hampshire primary on February 11.

“In the words of my friend John McCain, there's nothing more liberating than a cause larger than yourself,” Klobuchar often says in her campaign stump speech. “And that is this election.”

She repeatedly tells stories of having traveled with him on congressional trips abroad, and cites his bravery in voting against repealing Obamacare with his infamous thumbs-down vote, as well as time she spent with him just before he passed.

Klobuchar told a crowd in Manchester this week of a trip McCain planned with her and Senator Lindsey Graham to Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Georgia and Ukraine, just before President Trump’s inauguration in 2017. She admired his foresight, as she said he understood “what we were about to embark on when it came to Trump’s foreign policy.”

“No matter what was going to come upon us and the havoc that was going to be reached by this administration,” Klobuchar said. “He was making the point that our country stood with our allies and that's what made such an impression on me: the bipartisan approach to foreign policy.”

Emphasizing their relationship is a noteworthy move in New Hampshire, where undeclared voters remain the largest share of the electorate, with 42 percent ahead of the 2020 primary — up from 38 percent in the 2016 primary — and they can vote in the Democratic primary in the state.

And the bipartisan approach seemed to work for her in Iowa. Though finishing in fifth place, she’s just 3.5 points behind Joe Biden — in the still-unsettled results — and she won historically conservative counties like Sioux, Lyon and Wayne counties.

On her final trip to Iowa before the caucuses, Klobuchar attracted former third party voter Doug Bishop in Bettendorf with her stories with the late Senator from Arizona.

“The only other two candidates I’ve shaken hands with were Fred Thompson and John McCain,” Bishop told NBC News. “I didn't know of that connection with her and McCain, it kind of brought me in. What she’s saying is resonating with me.”

Klobuchar consistently touted her support from local legislators in Iowa who had changed party affiliation.

“I see something else when you've got former Republican legislators that are endorsing me in the middle of a country, where you see people that are willing to talk about decency checks and patriotism checks,” Klobuchar said recently in Concord, N.H. “That's what this election is, and I think New Hampshire is in a unique position now," she said, because, "you have this tradition of looking at people not just for where they are in our own party but how they’re going to fare nationally.”

Klobuchar’s campaign feels the relevance of the respect of figures like McCain are all the more prevalent now in light of impeachment.

“Amy speaks to Independents and moderate Republicans as well as our fired-up Democratic base with a unifying, optimistic message,” Klobuchar’s campaign manager Justin Buoen said in aa campaign memo on state of the state in New Hampshire.

“It’s a way that she connects with voters,” echoed Michael Matthewson, an undecided, independent first-time voter from Nashua, N.H. of Klobuchar leaning into her bipartisan support.