By Froma Harrop / syndicated columnist
Beats me why heartland Democrats running for president haven’t gained more traction. Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan just left the race despite his success in part of the industrial Midwest that delivered the presidency to Donald Trump. Montana Gov. Steve Bullock continues to just hang on, arguing that he’s the only Democrat who won statewide office in a very red state.
That leaves Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Indiana. They remain serious contenders even though most reputable polls show them stuck in the single digits. Both are running vigorous campaigns in Iowa.
But Klobuchar’s prospects have decidedly improved of late. A strong performance in the October debate has her drawing crowds in New Hampshire. Her fundraising has surged, as has her media coverage.
A new piece in The Economist, “Amy Klobuchar for sanity,” urges Democrats to give the senator “a look.” It portrays her as an exemplar of Midwest pragmatism who could become a moderate alternative to Joe Biden.
Mayor Pete’s ace is his fine intellect and military service in Afghanistan. But he’s turned a bit weird in his defense of Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, whom Hillary Clinton accused of being “a Russian asset,” a charge that intelligence experts don’t dismiss.
His support for extending health coverage to undocumented immigrants has political strategists slapping their heads. Democrats don’t like talking about this, but Buttigieg’s outwardly gay identity, as well as his tender age of 37, could work against him in a national election.
That leaves Klobuchar as one of the more plausible Democrats to beat Trump. Her momentum follows a frontal assault on Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s Medicare for All plan during the debate. Klobuchar called it a “pipe dream” that would require a significant tax increase on the middle class.
“I’m sorry, Elizabeth,” she said. “I think we owe it to the American people to tell them where we’re gonna send the invoice.” The Massachusetts senator’s proposal would also end private coverage for the 155 million Americans now insured by an employer.
Americans do not cotton to radical change, writes Rahm Emanuel, former Chicago mayor and chief of staff for Barack Obama. He calls Medicare for All a political “minefield.” Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, 90 percent of Americans already have coverage. Besides, Medicare for All would have no chance of passage, he adds, even if Democrats “draw a royal flush” of a small Senate majority in 2020.
Klobuchar instead wants to offer a public option: a government-run health plan that Americans could choose to join. It could take several forms. Emanuel suggests giving private citizens access to the same insurance now enjoyed by federal employees.
Klobuchar would also let uninsured Americans 55 or older buy into Medicare (the qualifying age is now 65). This would appeal to the vote-rich demographic of early retirees.
Free four-year college? That’s what Warren and Bernie Sanders propose. But 2 out of 3 Americans don’t have a four-year degree. Should we be asking truck drivers to subsidize the education of computer engineers?
Klobuchar instead endorses free community college and subsidies for apprentice and training programs. Bingo. Our economy more and more demands skills beyond high school. Many students intending to earn four-year degrees already start out at affordable two-year community colleges. Thus, Klobuchar’s plan could, in effect, pay for half of a four-year degree.
Moderation? Nothing wrong with that. The last two Democratic presidents, Obama and Bill Clinton, campaigned — and governed — as moderates. Both spoke the language of the heartland.
I’m not dismissing front-runner Joe Biden but noting that he’s not the only attractive moderate in the Democratic race. On this score, Klobuchar definitely deserves another look.
Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.