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Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar Turns To Humor To Distinguish Herself Among Candidates


In the 24-person Democratic presidential field, Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota has distinguished herself as a comedian, telling jokes on the campaign trail and in interviews. She spoke with the NPR Politics Podcast and New Hampshire Public Radio. NPR's Tamara Keith has this report.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Walking in a parade in Franconia, N.H., Senator Amy Klobuchar spotted our microphone and started a roving comedy routine.


UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting) Amy, Amy, Amy.

KEITH: To understand this visual gag, you need to know there are supporters holding signs spelling out her name, Amy - A-M-Y.


AMY KLOBUCHAR: Look what they can do with my name. Have you seen it? Let's make yam, OK? And then we could do May. It just shows the kind of broad support we have, the yam vote.

KEITH: A few hours later at the Polish Princess Bakery a few towns over, Klobuchar infuses her stump speech with humor, some of which can best be described as Minnesota mom jokes, even as she talked about Russian election interference.


KLOBUCHAR: And they use the word meddling. I don't use that because that's what I do when I call our daughter on a Saturday night and ask her what she's doing. This was an invasion.

KEITH: Klobuchar explained in the NPR Politics Podcast interview that her humor was shaped, in part, by a difficult family life, a father who is alcoholic and a mother who approached personal tragedy with situational comedy.

Democratic voters often say they are looking for a candidate they can see on a debate stage standing up to President Trump.


KLOBUCHAR: People don't realize that you may not think what he says is funny, but he is using humor.

KEITH: With Trump, Klobuchar argues her humor has a purpose.


KLOBUCHAR: I think if you're just straight-laced the whole time dealing with Donald Trump, no matter how good your policies are, I don't think it's going to work because you've got to show how absurd he is. And you can't just do that with pre-planned lines. You have to know how to use it in the moment.

KEITH: When it comes to policy, Klobuchar is among the more moderate candidates in the Democratic field. She wants a public option, rather than "Medicare for All," and she doesn't support free public college for all or wiping out college debt, as Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have called for. Klobuchar admits her college affordability plan doesn't fit on a bumper sticker.

KLOBUCHAR: I think when you start making these promises that I don't think you can keep and I don't think are good for the whole country, I would rather - instead of putting the money into wealthy kids, I'd rather have the money go to the rest of the people.

KEITH: And this gets at how Klobuchar is pitching herself, as a candidate who can win the middle of America, in states like Wisconsin and Michigan and her home state of Minnesota, where she frequently points out she won in many of the same districts President Trump did.

At the moment, though, she's polling in the low single digits among Democratic primary voters.


KLOBUCHAR: I am in it for the long haul. I am someone that it takes time, sometimes, for people to get to know some of the candidates from smaller states. I'm going to make that debate stage in the fall, and that's going to give me a great opportunity.

KEITH: Back at the Polish Princess Bakery, a voter approaches Klobuchar to say she doesn't understand why she's not one of the candidates at the top. Klobuchar then repeats the interaction to make sure it's on mic.


KLOBUCHAR: She said, you were my favorite; I don't know why you're up there. I said, well, we don't want to peak too early because in this race, people, like, get up on the counter, and they fall down, you know?

KEITH: It's a not-so-thinly veiled reference to Beto O'Rourke, the former Texas congressman whose early campaign trademark was delivering his stump speech while standing on a counter.

Tamara Keith, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith
Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.