Amy Klobuchar finally got the moment she desperately needed.
Now the question is whether she can hold on.
Klobuchar, who looked on track to finish in third place in New Hampshire, strode to the stage at a hotel here in Concord with the confidence of a candidate who, after a year’s worth of fits and starts, finally got a chance to introduce herself as a winner.
Her newfound status, after months as an underdog, means she now faces the litany of challenges that confront a candidate who defied expectations but has yet to face substantial scrutiny over her background. And her operation in coming primary contests – Nevada, South Carolina and the Super Tuesday states – is meager, compared to her rivals.
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“Hello, America,” she said to cheers on Tuesday night. “I’m Amy Klobuchar and I will beat Donald Trump.”
The crowd followed her lead, chanting, “Beat Trump, vote Amy.”
“My heart is full tonight, while there are still ballots left to count, we have beaten the odds every step of the way,” Klobuchar said. “We have done it on the merits, we have done it with ideas, and we have done it with hard work.”
Klobuchar sought to hold on to her underdog status by pointing out she had been counted out before.
But then the senator nodded to the night that changed her campaign: Friday night’s Democratic debate in Manchester.
“Then they predicted that we wouldn’t make it to the debate,” she said wryly. “And man, were we at the debate in New Hampshire.”
A strong debate turn
The senator turned in her strongest debate performance of the cycle last week, pitching her pragmatic progressivism to an electorate who – for the first time – would vote mere days later.
“I do not have to biggest name up on this stage, I don’t have the biggest bank account. I’m not a political newcomer with no record, but I have a record of fighting for people,” Klobuchar said passionately. “I’m asking you to believe that someone who totally believes in America can win this, because if you are tired of the extremes in our politics and the noise and the nonsense, you have a home with me.”
Klobuchar’s campaign was almost instantly imbued with more momentum than they had ever experienced. They raised millions in the following 24 hours, were crowned the debate’s winner by many pundits and, most importantly, saw a massive influx of help in New Hampshire, with 3,000 new volunteer shifts getting booked between the debate on Friday night and primary night, four days later.
The senator had turned in plenty of strong debate performances, using her nimbleness to gamely hammer candidates across the Democratic spectrum. But none garnered the kind of reaction she got on Friday night.
Supporters who had never donated to her campaign logged on in the minutes after and donated. Her events began to swell in New Hampshire, with overflow crowds becoming the norm. And even casual Democrats began to feel the urgency around her candidacy.
“This is the only political event we’ve come to,” said Adeline George, a New Hampshire voter from Seabrook who wasn’t supporting the candidate before the Democratic debate. “She meets the measure. She really does impress us.”
Klobuchar, as the momentum swelled and her campaign reached its one year-anniversary, even began joking with people in New Hampshire, “We launched a full year ago, but we’re finally surging.”
Even the expectations of top Klobuchar aides began shifting around the debate. Before the contest, senior Klobuchar aides confided that they would have been fine with a finish in the top five.
After the debate, though, internal expectations began to match those outside the campaign, with an aide telling CNN that “anything in the top four” would be acceptable.
On Tuesday night, Klobuchar celebrated defying expectations.
“Tonight in New Hampshire, as everyone had counted us out even a week ago – thank you, pundits – I came back and we delivered,” she said.
Can her momentum carry her forward?
Now, though, the difficult part begins.
Klobuchar is also about to experience an uptick in scrutiny – namely of her tenure as county attorney of Hennepin County, the largest in Minnesota. Klobuchar got a taste of this in the days leading up to the New Hampshire primary. When questioned about the case of Myon Burrell, a teenager who was sentenced to life for the killing of 11-year-old Tyesha Edwards, Klobuchar struggled to defend the totality of her record.
More pressingly, though, the Minnesota senator has shown no ability to win over Latino or black voters, the backbone of the Democratic electorate, and voting blocs that will be key to any success Klobuchar may have in Nevada and South Carolina, the next states in the nominating contest.
And the senator’s operation in the forthcoming early states – Nevada, South Carolina and the Super Tuesday states that will vote on March 3 – is paltry compared to other campaigns.
The Klobuchar team scrambled after Iowa to move a bulk of their organizers to New Hampshire and others to Nevada. The expectation is that organizers currently in New Hampshire will quickly make their way to Nevada and South Carolina in the coming days, a senior aide said.
The campaign currently has 50 staffers in Nevada, according to an aide, many of whom are newly on the ground and transplants from Iowa. And, partly with the money the campaign expects to raise from its strong finish in New Hampshire, Klobuchar’s campaign announced a seven-figure ad buy in Las Vegas and Reno, Nevada, that will focus intently on taking on Trump and her plan for her hypothetical first 100 days in office.
The campaign’s plans for South Carolina are less clear. Aides would not disclose how many staffers they have on the ground and it does not appear that the state will get the same kind of influx of money as Nevada.
And the aide told CNN that by this weekend they will have staff deployed in several Super Tuesday states, but not all of them.
“Tonight is great,” said a senior campaign aide. “Tomorrow, the works starts.”