SOUTH GATE, CA – Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar has argued for weeks that Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of a small Indiana city, doesn't have enough experience to be a serious contender for the Democratic nomination for president. As she heads into a 27-county tour of Iowa, the lead-off caucus state, s he's seeing some payoff for bringing those frustrations fully into public view.
As Klobuchar started her four-day Iowa tour in Centerville, she announced Friday night that she'd raised $1 million since the previous night's debate, where she referred to Buttigieg as a “local official” and reminded voters he lost his only attempt at winning statewide office, for Indiana treasurer in 2010.
She saw a burst of enthusiasm across Iowa, turning out at least three dozen people at a small burger shop in the tiny town of Bloomfield, a crowd Davis County Democratic Chair Cheryll Jones said was “stunning."
“Here, this crowd is a big deal,” she said. “She’s already won support tonight.”
Klobuchar has been frustrated by Buttigieg's improbable rise in Iowa, where the two are fighting for the same moderate slice of the electorate by showcasing their Midwestern roots. Klobuchar, 59, has been elected to the U.S. Senate three times from Minnesota, Iowa's northern neighbor; Buttigieg, 37, has served two terms as mayor of South Bend, Indiana, a city of about 100,000 people.
Buttigieg referred to the “friendly fire” Friday night as he campaigned in Nevada. He was asked by a voter at a town hall about what advice he'd give for staying inspired while in public service.
“You go on Twitter and you go on the news and if feels like getting punched in the face all the time. Especially when you actually run," he said, getting laughs from crowd.
He also lamented “the absurdity that I feel like we’re getting from the other side to the friendly fire that I get from my own competitors where we more or less have the same values.”
Klobuchar has picked up steam in Iowa in recent weeks, using a combination of humor and the argument that she has a record of getting things done. She's also cited her electoral track record in Minnesota, where she's won in Republican areas, and argued she'd run big enough margins to help Democrats win seats down the ticket.
But Buttigieg has reached top-tier status in the state, which votes on Feb. 3. He'll head there for campaign events Saturday. He's frequently made the argument that mayors have a better track record of tackling real issues than politicians in Washington.
Asked by The Associated Press why she focused on Buttigieg during Thursday debate, Klobuchar said the race “goes beyond who gives the best speech or who has the best talking points.”
“People have to really look at what the person is going to do when they get in office, what’s their track record. They mostly have to look at…who can win,” she said. She said she has a track record of winning and bringing in suburban and rural voters, Republicans and Democrats, and Buttigieg “doesn't have that track record.”
The night before, Klobuchar said the combined experience of the senators on stage was not to be belittled. She noted former Vice President Joe Biden, who previously served in the Senate, has fought to cure cancer, Sen. Elizabeth Warren helped establish an agency dedicated to protecting consumers from predatory practices and authored provisions in major farm bills, and Sen. Bernie Sanders worked on a veterans bill. Her hits on Buttigieg were her most aggressive yet.
“I think experience matters,” she said Friday.
Voter Chuck Kantor, a 76-year-old retired computer consultant who attended the senator's Friday night event, said Klobuchar wasn’t even in his top three before her performance Thursday night — but now she’s top of his list.
"She showed the most leadership on the stage, by breaking up those arguments in a successful, quiet manner. And she made sense,” he said.
Buttigieg didn't let the attacks slide in the debate, noting he has different experience of serving in the U.S. Navy Reserve. On his electoral record, he said it was no small feat to win elected office as “a gay dude in Mike Pence's Indiana,” a reference to the conservative vice president who was previously the state's governor.
On Friday night in Las Vegas, Buttigieg interlaced his policy prescriptions with stories about problems he confronted as mayor, noting that his city is “just big enough that we have every problem but we're small."
He also pointed to local governments as a source of more action and inspiration than Congress, noting a host of legislation Nevada's Democratically-controlled state government passed this year. He said watching impeachment play out in Washington feels like a foregone conclusion in the Republican-controlled Senate, which “may deepen our sense of frustration and that nothing seems to make a difference.”
“And yet, I’ve seen the power, especially at the local level, and the state level," Buttigieg said. “We can watch what happens on the floor of the Senate and we can feel kind of powerless but 2020 is where we get to decide and we can send a message—in local, in state and certainly the national election."
Price reported from Las Vegas. Associated Press writer Kathleen Ronayne in South Gate, California contributed to this report.