With such a crowded and competitive Democratic field for 2020, candidates will obviously need to do everything they can to differentiate themselves from the rest of the pack.
So when Amy Klobuchar, the senior Senator from Minnesota, announced that she’s close to making a final decision on running for president, analysts naturally started assessing her chances. And almost immediately, the discussion zeroed in on electability.
The theory is that Klobuchar has regularly exceeded electoral benchmarks, especially compared to other presidential hopefuls. And according to CNN’s Harry Enten (whom I’ve mentioned here before) there’s some weight to this. Last month, Enten compared these politicians’ most recent Senate performances to the results in the House, ultimately finding that Klobuchar was in a more favorable position than almost anyone else.
Today, I’m going to try something similar, but with a few modifications:
- Instead of referring to 2018 House data, I’ll use the most recent version of the Cook Political Report’s Partisan Voter Index, or PVI, which measures how Democratic or Republican a state votes compared to the national average. Because the PVI is calculated with results from prior presidential elections, it should give us a better picture of a state’s partisan lean in years with “typical” — albeit a little outdated — turnout.
- Enten also only looked at presidential hopefuls who ran for Senate in 2018, but I’ll include all candidates who have competed in statewide races. While most of the politicians in the list have run in the past few years, I’m counting Joe Biden’s last Senate bid, which was over a decade ago). This will expand the scope to add Biden, Kamala Harris, and Cory Booker, all strong contenders who would otherwise be left out.
Here’s what I found:
As this chart demonstrates, Twitter’s not wrong — Klobuchar really does outperform; although Minnesota’s D+1 PVI makes the state only slightly blue, she was able to win her 2018 reelection bid to the Senate by 24 percentage points. The issue is that she’s hardly in a league of her own.
Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Kamala Harris have also all exceeded their state’s PVI by at least 20 points, putting Klobuchar right in the middle. In fact, even the bottom four candidates — Elizabeth Warren, Sherrod Brown, Cory Booker, and Beto O’Rourke — are more popular than one may expect.
Still, there’s an important detail to note: almost everyone else represents a state that’s already favorable to their party. Vermont is 15 points more Democratic than the country, and New York, California, and Massachusetts aren’t far behind. Klobuchar, on the other hand, managed to rout her Republican opponent in Minnesota, a relatively even playing field. Brown’s result in Ohio is perhaps the closest comparison, but even then, she performed over twice as well.
But 2018 wasn’t a fluke for Klobuchar, given that she’s won by similar margins in all three Senate campaigns. To be fair, Minnesota’s political makeup has stayed consistent over the last two decades, meaning she isn’t getting much more popular as time goes on. Nevertheless, her ability to command so dominantly is impressive.
Indeed, the only candidate who appears to be uniquely über-popular is Kamala Harris, who beat her benchmark in California by 21 percentage points…while running against another Democrat in the general election. Her performance here was marked by an embrace of what her voters wanted, including endorsements from top-level Democrats and an unabashedly progressive campaign.
Compare that to the more moderate-left policy positions of Klobuchar (who again, mind you, is in a state that merely tilts Democratic) and the similarities start to get interesting.
So yes, Amy Klobuchar is popular, and in the context of Minnesota politics, she’s electable. But when placed next to similarly matched opponents with more progressive views, it’s easy to see a world where the increasingly liberal Democratic electorate rejects her.
Let me be clear: this isn’t a prediction that Klobuchar will lose the nomination. It does seem dangerous, though, when a candidate’s biggest marketed appeal is that they outperform benchmarks. If Klobuchar wants to be her party’s nominee, she’ll need to shift the media’s coverage of her to highlight something different. Because right now, depending on how you look at it, she’s not even the most “electable” person in the 2020 field.