Days after her surprising third-place finish in the New Hampshire primary, Klobuchar is facing a storm as aspects of her record get more scrutiny in the presidential campaign.
“As a prosecutor, you have both aggressively prosecuted people of color as well as refused to prosecute officers who use excessive aggression against people of color,” a young man told her at a town hall hosted by the League of Latin American Citizens and Telemundo. “My question is, how do you justify your actions in that, as well as how should people of color trust you to reform our justice system?”
“Um, OK,” Klobuchar responded, before proceeding to “get the facts down,” including what she called a “pretty significant” decline in the incarceration rate of African Americans during her time as Hennepin County attorney.
“I’m a big believer in criminal justice reform,” she said.
For Klobuchar,the hostile questioning is a sign of her arrival as a serious contender. But it also comes at a precarious time, as she scrambles to make inroads in Nevada and South Carolina — two racially diverse states in which she has little demonstrated support.
“I have to get people to get to know me,” Klobuchar said Thursday, when asked at the forum in Las Vegas about how she will keep her momentum going.
In addition to ads that she has started running in Nevada, she pointed to endorsements from some Latina lawmakers and to the Las Vegas Sun’s dual endorsement that day of Klobuchar and former Vice President Joe Biden. The paper called Klobuchar “a unity candidate for the Democrats.”
Klobuchar said, “I have to get that information out there.”
It would also help her to change the conversation.
On Tuesday, Klobuchar was pressed on ABC’s “The View” about her office’s questionable prosecution of black teenager in a high-profile case that was the subject of a recent Associated Press investigation. About the same time, video began circulating of a 2006 Senate debate in which Klobuchar called for a fence along the U.S.-Mexico border.
“I do believe that we need more resources at the border, and that includes a fence,” Klobuchar said in the debate, adding that the United States should “stop giving amnesty to companies that are hiring illegal immigrants.”
In the same debate, she called for “earned citizenship for people that have been here, that have paid their taxes, that are willing to learn English and that are willing to be a part of our community.”
The renewed scrutiny of Klobuchar’s record comes just more than a week before the Nevada caucuses, a critical test for Klobuchar in a state where Latinos make up a sizable proportion of the electorate.
Earlier this week, Klobuchar said that “I’ve been a leader on immigration reform,” adding, “I’m the only one running that’s stood up for immigrants in a really difficult state when it comes to that issue — had ads run against me all the time.”
She also said her voting record is “pretty similar to the two women senators that were elected in a state that has majority women in the legislature.”
“So, watch for Nevada,” she said.
Now that she is there, her opponents are beginning to move to cut her down.
Plunging into her Senate record without naming her on Thursday, Pete Buttigieg — a fellow moderate with his own liabilities in Nevada and South Carolina — criticized Klobuchar’s 2018 vote to confirm U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan.
“I’ve heard some people say that, you know, my experience is not relevant because you have to have Washington experience in order to become a president,” Buttigieg said. “But some of those same voices are among those who voted to confirm Kevin McAleenan as the CBP head who presided over, for example, the horrifying conditions that children were kept in, and we have to look at what kind of judgment that experience has brought.”
Klobuchar, asked about her tenure as Hennepin County attorney in Minnesota, said Thursday that she believes there is “systematic racism in our criminal justice system.” And she said that “if I would change one thing — back when I was there, all the DAs in our state, and really around the country, used grand juries to make decisions about police shootings.”
She said, “I think it is much better if you just take responsibility for that yourself.”