Sen. Amy Klobuchar is pitching herself for the White House as the commonsense Midwestern answer to President Donald Trump — while former staffers portray her as a brutal boss who mistreated them.
The run-up to Klobuchar’s expected presidential campaign launch on Sunday has been sidetracked by former aides, speaking anonymously for fear of retribution, who described a toxic office environment including demeaning emails, thrown office supplies and requests for staff to perform personal chores for the senator. It’s a sharp departure from the public brand that Klobuchar has built to get to this moment: a pragmatic, aw-shucks Minnesotan who gets things done and wins her state by landslide margins.
Klobuchar defenders, including some former staffers, have gone on the record to push back against the reports, suggesting that the critique is grounded in sexism against a woman who demands excellence from her employees. Klobuchar’s campaign released statements saying she “loves her staff,” citing aides who have “been with her for years.”
But Klobuchar’s campaign has not denied any of the specific allegations detailed in recent news stories, and Democrats in the first caucus state of Iowa — where Klobuchar hopes to make a splash in a crowded 2020 field — have said the senator’s treatment of staff has the potential to sideswipe her campaign.
“It’s a very unfortunate way to start a presidential campaign,” Jerry Crawford, a longtime Democratic operative in Iowa, said. “It was well-known at the insider level, but now it’s becoming well-known to the general public at the time she’s announcing, which is problematic for her politically.”
Bryce Smith, the Democratic Party chairman in Dallas County, Iowa, said, “I don’t see being a hard-ass as a boss as a bad thing.” But “having to take time away from stumping on why you would be the best candidate and playing defense on what happened in her past” could be a problem for Klobuchar, he said. “A few candidates have to do that right now.”
“I doubt it will [affect voters] much,” one national Democratic consultant, granted anonymity to discuss the issue candidly, said. “But does it mar her rollout and her getting support from important people, like donors and elected officials? Yes. And in the long run, that’s a problem with getting voters.”
Klobuchar isn’t alone in answering tough questions as the 2020 presidential field takes shape. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren has apologized multiple times for having once claimed Native American ancestry, while California Sen. Kamala Harris has addressed criticism from the left about her prosecutorial record.
Klobuchar’s Senate office has cycled through staff at a higher rate than most others. LegiStorm, a database service tracking the congressional workforce, found Klobuchar had the highest staff turnover rate in the Senate from 2001 to 2016. In 2017, Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) and Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) surpassed Klobuchar on the list.
Those are not the numbers Klobuchar wants to bring into focus.
The Minnesota Democrat has won her three Senate campaigns by an average of 26 percentage points, even as her state has become more competitive over the last decade. In 2018, she won 42 of the counties President Donald Trump carried in Minnesota two years earlier, when he lost the state by just 1.5 percentage points.
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