HOUSTON — U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar blasted “Medicare-for-all,” defended her record as a prosecutor in Minnesota and said she supports a voluntary gun buyback program during the third Democratic presidential debate in Houston on Thursday.
Those three moments were reflective of a more aggressive approach from the Minnesota senator and presidential candidate in her latest appearance on the national stage.
Klobuchar, who has consistently polled near the back of the Democratic presidential pack, was in need of some standout moments in the nationally televised debate. A RealClearPolitics average of national polls taken earlier Thursday showed Klobuchar in 10th place with the support of just 1.2 percent of voters.
The change in Klobuchar’s strategy showed up early Thursday night — and led to what may be considered one of the sharpest attacks she has leveled in these debates.
In the first two debates, Klobuchar positioned herself as a moderate but did not take specific swipes at her more progressive counterparts.
In between ‘extremes’
In her opening remarks Thursday, Klobuchar still billed herself as the choice for those who “feel stuck in the middle of the extremes in our politics.” But she also mentioned Democratic proposals that “are a little off track,” and within moments butted in to a health care scuffle between the Democratic frontrunners, who were arguing the merits of a Medicare-for-all system versus a public option.
As U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont told former Vice President Joe Biden that he “wrote the damn (Medicare-for-all) bill,” Klobuchar shot back with a line that quickly drew buzz.
“While Bernie wrote the bill, I read the bill,” Klobuchar said, noting that the legislation stated it would end private insurance “as we know it” for as many as 149 million Americans.
“I don’t think that’s a bold idea. I think that’s a bad idea,” Klobuchar said.
Klobuchar was also put on the defensive during the debate, specifically about her record as a Hennepin County prosecutor.
When a moderator suggested that Klobuchar sided with police in fatal officer-involved shootings, the senator shot back: “That is not my record.” She argued that she “took a stand” to have the cases handled by outside investigators and grand juries.
And when fellow Democrat and former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke called for a mandatory gun buyback program for assault-style weapons, Klobuchar said Democrats should instead draw attention to the gun control bills that are sitting on Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s desk. Although she also remarked that she would support a “voluntary” buyback program.
Klobuchar’s approach to the night may have paid off — political pundits on television mused that Klobuchar had a generally good night, though they were not sure if it would improve her standing in the crowded field.
David Schultz, a Hamline University political science professor, agreed in part.
“Klobuchar had to be more aggressive in this debate and on balance has been,” Schultz said. But he argued that she also needed to rank near the top in speaking time, “and she failed in that.”
“Half of (her presidential bid is) within her destiny, half of it’s completely out of her control,” Schultz said.