Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D)
Elected: 2006, term expires 2012, 1st term.
Born: May 25, 1960, Plymouth .
Education: Yale U., B.A. 1982, U. of Chicago, J.D. 1985.
Family: Married (John Bessler); 1 child.
Elected office: Hennepin cnty. atty., 1998-2006.
Professional Career: Practicing atty., 1985-98.
Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat elected in 2006, is Minnesota’s senior senator and the fourth occupant of this Senate seat in as many elections. Klobuchar (KLO-bu-shar) was born in the Minneapolis suburb of Plymouth, the daughter of longtime Minneapolis Star Tribune columnist Jim Klobuchar. She attended Yale University, where she wrote a senior paper on the machinations behind the building of the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, then graduated from the University of Chicago law school. After returning home, she worked primarily as a lawyer and as a lobbyist. In 1994, she ran for Hennepin County attorney but left the race when Mike Freeman, the officeholder at the time, lost a bid for the Democratic endorsement for governor and decided to run for re-election. In 1998, when Freeman ran for governor again, Klobuchar ran for the job and defeated the sister of 3rd District U.S. Rep. Jim Ramstad, a Republican, in the general election. Klobuchar served two terms as county attorney, was president of the Minnesota County Attorneys Association, and took credit for spearheading a crackdown on gun crimes and for securing nearly 300 homicide convictions.
|Amy Klobuchar (DFL)||1,278,849||(58%)||($9,095,671)|
|Mark Kennedy (R)||835,653||(38%)||($10,347,739)|
|Amy Klobuchar (DFL)||294,671||(93%)|
|Darryl Stanton (DFL)||23,872||(7%)|
Minneapolis’s Hennepin County is home to almost a quarter of the state’s population, so it provided an excellent springboard for Klobuchar to run for the Senate in 2006, after Democratic Sen. Mark Dayton announced he would not seek re-election. Dayton’s standing had fallen in the polls in October 2004, when he announced that he was closing his Washington office because of security threats. Congress had recessed for the election, making the decision seem a bit alarmist. Also, Dayton, whose family fortune was made in department stores (Dayton Hudson, which became Target Corp.), had spent nearly $12 million on his campaign in 2000, and said he was not able to self-finance again. Quickly, Republican U.S. Rep. Mark Kennedy made it clear he was running. He was fresh from defeating a well-known and well-financed Democratic challenger in the 6th District, Patty Wetterling, a national child-safety advocate. While Republican Sen. Norm Coleman and other Minnesota Republicans quickly united behind Kennedy’s candidacy, the Democratic field took time to shake out. Several prominent members of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party decided against the race, including former presidential candidate Walter Mondale, Justice Alan Page, Attorney General Mike Hatch, and radio talk-show host (and Minnesota native) Al Franken. Klobuchar was the first to formally announce her candidacy in April. But Wetterling was also interested in running, as was Minnesota Heart Institute Research Foundation President Ford Bell.
But Wetterling soon decided instead to run again for the 6th District seat, left open by Kennedy’s Senate bid. Bell dropped out in July 2006, a month after Klobuchar received the party endorsement at the DFL state convention. With a clear path to the party nomination, Klobuchar was able to conserve her resources and focus her sights on Kennedy. Meanwhile, he struggled in his effort to distance himself from an unpopular Republican president, the war in Iraq, and the national GOP. In one television ad, Kennedy offered a list of issues on which he voted against the Bush administration and crossed party lines. He claimed he was an independent, bipartisan leader who would not “take up Senator Dayton’s place on the fringe.” He sought to portray Klobuchar as an ineffective liberal by linking her to the unpopular outgoing incumbent. And he also questioned the number of cases she actually prosecuted and highlighted the increasing rate of violent crime in Minneapolis.
This open Senate race at first figured to be one of the Republican Party’s best opportunities to pick up a Democratic seat. But in her first bid for statewide office, Klobuchar built an early lead in the polls and never relinquished it. She referred to Kennedy as a “rubber stamp for President Bush” who supported Bush’s policies more than 90% of the time. She talked about middle-class tax relief and called for an increase in the minimum wage. She emphasized her tough-on-crime credentials and ran on a more fiscally conservative platform than Dayton and the late Minnesota Democratic Sen. Paul Wellstone.
Klobuchar won 58%-38%, the biggest Minnesota Senate victory since 1978—only twice did Democratic Sen. Hubert H. Humphrey win a margin this big. She swept the Iron Range and won by 2-to-1 ratios in the Twin Cities core counties, carrying Hennepin County (64%-32%) and St. Paul’s Ramsey County (66%-29%). She also showed strength in the eastern Twin Cities suburbs, winning Dakota County (56%-40%), Anoka County (55%-42%), and Washington County (55%-41%).
Bribery and corruption scandals had plagued Congress for the previous two years, and Klobuchar launched her Senate term by taking several high-profile steps to try to show she would be different. She announced that she would not accept gifts, meals, or trips from private groups or individuals, regardless of whether congressional rules allow them. She instituted “Minnesota Mornings,” where every Thursday the Senate is in session she meets with visiting Minnesotans for coffee and potica, a traditional Slovenian holiday nut roll, a reminder to constituents of Klobuchar’s ethnic heritage and Iron Range family roots.
Her lead issue was product safety. After news stories described the discovery of lead in children’s toys made in China and Congress moved to tighten regulation, the Senate bill contained three of Klobuchar’s provisions: a comprehensive ban on lead in children’s products (including clothes), a requirement that toys contain batch numbers to make recalls easier, and a ban on the sale of recalled toys. Klobuchar also served on the conference committee that negotiated the final version, which raised the age for which products were regulated from 7 to 12. Congress passed the legislation in July 2008. She also co-sponsored a ban on industry-paid travel by staff of the Consumer Product Safety Commission. That bill passed the Senate in March 2008. In 2007, after a 6-year-old sustained serious injuries from a swimming pool drain in St. Louis Park, Minn., Klobuchar and Ramstad sponsored a bill banning swimming pool covers that fail to meet entrapment safety standards and requiring automatic drain shutoffs. It was signed into law in December 2007.
With a seat on the Agriculture Committee, Klobuchar also had a role in drafting the farm bill in 2007. She got into the final legislation provision creating incentives for farmers to switch from carbohydrate-based crops like corn to cellulosic crops like switchgrass to make ethanol. The provision no doubt made Minnesota switchgrass growers happy. She also sought to bar federal subsidies to farmers with incomes over $750,000 a year, but was unsuccessful. After gasoline prices spiked in May 2008, she backed a windfall profits tax on oil companies, and in September of that year, joined a bipartisan group pushing to permit states to allow offshore oil drilling along their coasts.
She also took up a cause affecting the multiple millions of cell phone consumers. With Democrat Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, she co-sponsored a bill requiring cellphone companies to allow free termination of contracts for 30 days and prorated termination fees after that. “Sometimes I feel as if I work for these companies because I know all the dead spots on Interstate 35,” she said. “If I know, the companies should know. And they should provide this information to consumers before they enter into a contract.” Within six months, the major companies had announced they would prorate termination fees.
Klobuchar faces her first re-election test in 2012.