MANCHESTER, N.H. – Amy Klobuchar's campaign staff initially set up 250 chairs ahead of a Sunday rally at Southern New Hampshire University. But in the moments before the Minnesota senator arrived on campus, the aides scrambled to remove most of them to accommodate a capacity crowd of more than 700 people.
Klobuchar is still lagging in most polls, but the crowd was a sign of the energy surrounding her campaign as voters swamped with choices try to make a decision before Tuesday's New Hampshire primary. She's hoping that a strong debate performance along with a well received speech at a Democratic Party dinner and a surge of cash over the weekend will encourage voters to give her a second look.
“We exceeded expectations in Iowa, we’re going to the debate stage in Nevada. I think a lot of people have written me off a few times, and every single time we defied them. And in New Hampshire, there’s absolutely no doubt we’re seeing a surge,” she told The Associated Press after a rally Manchester on Sunday. “It feels good.”
She's asking voters for their consideration at a critical moment in the campaign. Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, made a strong showing in Iowa and is aiming for a repeat in New Hampshire in hopes of becoming the leading moderate in the race. Former Vice President Joe Biden, meanwhile, began the race as a front-runner but is struggling after a disappointing finish in Iowa and another middling result expected in New Hampshire.
If Klobuchar converts voters, it could come at the expense of Biden — and potentially Buttigieg. Klobuchar has slammed the 38-year-old forner mayor as too inexperienced to be president.
Klobuchar has been struggling for attention and fundraising dollars for much of the last year along with a half dozen lower-tier candidates. A fifth-place finish in Iowa, which neighbors her home state, might have been a death knell for another candidates, but she benefited from confusion over the results and extraordinarily low expectations to move on to New Hampshire.
In Durham on Saturday, Annie Merrill was wearing a green scarf matching Klobuchar’s campaign signs but said she hadn’t made up her mind.
“I love her manner. She’s gentle, yet forceful, and I think that’s what we need,” said Merrill, a retired human resources manager in her 70s. But she’s also considering Buttigieg, and said electability weighs heavily on her choice.
“I hate to say this, but I need to defeat Donald Trump. I don’t want to make an election just about one person, but it’s pretty important,” she said.
But Paul Burkett, 54, a lawyer from Bow, said he’s done with being a “tactical voter” and instead was backing Klobuchar simply because she would be the best president.
“I don’t think she’ll come in first or second, but third is in reach. And I do think there are three tickets out of New Hampshire, given what happened in Iowa and the political science experiment Michael Bloomberg is running," he said.
For much of the race, Klobuchar has struggled at the back of the pack in fundraising and had just under $5 million in reserve at the end of 2019. But after Friday’s debate she took in more than $2 million in less than two days, a lifeline that will allow her to forge on in contests ahead.
“We have what it takes to go to Nevada and beyond, but to do that, I’m gonna need you,” Klobuchar told supporters in Manchester. “So please give me your vote, give me your help, let’s go for broke, let’s barnstorm this state over the next two days, and we will do well in New Hampshire!”
Her debate performance included a harsh takedown of Buttigieg, and she continued voicing concern about his lack of experience when a reporter asked her about him on Sunday.
“Shouldn't we step back and look at who has the experience to lead especially when we have a brand newcomer in the White House right now? Maybe we should look at who can actually work with Congress, work across the aisle, not just have a talking point, not just saying it well but actually getting it done," she said.
Klobuchar declined to say what she would consider “doing well” in New Hampshire, but supporter Cheryl Archambault is hoping for a third, or even second-place finish.
Archambault, 62, said she had initially favored Biden but later began leaning toward Klobuchar. The senator’s debate performance cemented her decision, she said.
“She’s real. She’s not gonna sell you a bag of goods she’s not gonna deliver. I really hear that loud and clear from her,” she said.
Associated Press writers Brian Slodysko in Washington and Steve Peoples in Hanover, N.H., contributed to this report.