When Las Vegas residents Ken and Jayne Hamm watched Amy Klobuchar tout her surprising third place finish in New Hampshire last week, the Minnesota senator wasn’t someone they had seriously considered supporting.
But less than a week later, the couple sat patiently as they waited to see Klobuchar in person at a rally in Las Vegas’ Sun City neighborhood.
“She wasn’t on the radar,” said Ken. “(But) when she came up in the top tier in New Hampshire, we began to look at more at her and wanted to listen to her.”
Jayne, who previously volunteered for Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, agreed: “We weren’t really considering her. We were firmly with Elizabeth Warren. (New Hampshire) changed our mind.”
Voters, in a way to burnish their own independence, often argue that earlier contests do little to influence their vote. But those considering Klobuchar here in Nevada – like the Hamms – are proud of the fact they are now considering her and have fully embraced the fact that her third place finish nearly 3,000 miles away has shifted their views.
Klobuchar’s campaign was imbued with momentum following her third place finish in New Hampshire.
But that also set off a scramble, with the campaign looking to dispatch last minute organizers to a state where it appears they did not expect to be as strong as they are now.
The senator now has 50 staffers on the ground in Nevada, aides said, many of whom were quickly deployed from Iowa after her caucus campaign in that state wrapped up.
The operation lags other top candidates, and because of that lack of infrastructure, those same aides believe the senator needs a strong debate performance this week to remind voters why they are giving her a second look.
“The debate in New Hampshire was different because of how close it happened in relation to where voters started voting,” said a Klobuchar aide about how debates have impacted Klobuchar’s bid. “We believe we have that opportunity in front of us again.”
Even with that pressure on her shoulders, Klobuchar is clearly feeling the momentum – and is more than happy to mention it at the top of each event here in Nevada. In fact, nodding to New Hampshire is the only significant change the senator has made to her stump speech after New Hampshire.
“We are pretty excited,” Klobuchar said in Las Vegas on Saturday. “We are suddenly seeing what we call a surge.”
The momentum is coming from people like Gabriel Lither, a 48-year-old lawyer from Las Vegas, who is leaning toward Klobuchar after her performance in New Hampshire.
“As of the last debate, in my view, she’s the front runner,” Lither said. “I think that she could really easily win the election against Trump and for me that’s the most important thing right now is who can beat Donald Trump.”
And from voters like Jason Payne, a small business owner from Las Vegas who was undecided until the results from New Hampshire.
“I was kind of looking at Amy, but after New Hampshire, I’m like, ‘Oh yeah, you got to really look at that,’” Payne recalled saying, adding that he believes Klobuchar has more experience than former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
Underneath all of these voters leaning towards Klobuchar is an acknowledgment that the electorate is still very unsettled, with one good debate or even a third place showing in a state being enough to knock people off another candidate. Some Klobuchar supporters said they had been Warren, Buttigieg, or former Vice President Biden supporters before beginning toward the Minnesota senator.
And even those voters who say they like Klobuchar also said they are willing to go elsewhere if she sputters here in Nevada.
That is what Former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the top Democrat here in Nevada, acknowledged when he spoke to reporters after voting uncommitted on Saturday.
“Take Amy Klobuchar as an example,” Reid said. “People kept saying why is she in the race? Well she had two great debates and is coming in second in different polls and so we should not just be forcing people out. We should let it run the course and see how they feel about it.”
Reid said he and Klobuchar spoke on Friday.
Voters like Nanci Pileggi, a 66-year-old dental hygienist from Las Vegas, echo Reid’s point and are elated that Klobuchar wasn’t forced out of this race.
“That wasn’t always the case,” Pileggi said, adding that she was “really impressed with (Massachusetts Sen.) Elizabeth Warren early on” and has considered Biden before he started, in her eyes, “faltering badly.”
But Pileggi, when asked why she was backing Klobuchar, gave one key reason: “She is still viable.”
In a year where Democrats are hyper focused on winning and defeating Trump, winning (or at least doing well) begets more winning. Which is why voters like Pileggi have been drawn to Klobuchar.
The question for the senator is whether she can overcome her lack of serious infrastructure to hold on to voters who are now willing to give them a chance.
“It would have been harder to support someone who had little or no chance,” Pileggi said. “She did well enough there to be alive and kicking.”