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Klobuchar Presidential Campaign Surges, Finishes 3rd In N.H. Primary


Yesterday's New Hampshire primary confirmed that Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg are the top two Democratic candidates in this race. But the third-place finisher was something of a surprise - Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar.


AMY KLOBUCHAR: We know in our hearts that in a democracy, it is not about the loudest voice or the biggest bank account. It is about the best idea and about the person who can turn those ideas into action.

GREENE: Senator Klobuchar had spent much of the campaign lagging in polls but surged in New Hampshire after a strong debate performance. And I want to bring in Minnesota Democratic Governor Tim Walz, who is a Klobuchar supporter. Governor, thanks for coming on.

TIM WALZ: Well, thank you for having me.

GREENE: So I think it's safe to say Pete Buttigieg and your candidate, Senator Klobuchar, have sort of been appealing to the same moderate wing of the Democratic Party. He has finished ahead of her in both these contests so far. How does she secure enough votes to go beyond him?

WALZ: Well, first of all, we're excited. We feel like the rest of the country is seeing what we know, that Amy just simply gets things done. She, you know - it's not just about having the biggest vision. It's about who can turn that vision into action. I think she's done it. I think as people start to see her record more, start to hear from her, that's what we started to see. We knew that most people hadn't decided in New Hampshire.

And when she - she wins every debate. I think that seems pretty obvious to folks. And the frustration was, why isn't that translating? It is now as people pay attention. So we're feeling really good. I think Amy understood this was a long run. She didn't plan on peaking and having a viral moment. She just planned on outworking everybody.

GREENE: Well, I want to ask you - she has not had much black support in her bid so far. There was a poll in January in The Washington Post, had her under 1% among African American voters. How does she make up that ground?

WALZ: Well, I think it's on record, the things that she's done, certainly in Minnesota, you know? We are a diverse state, but not as diverse as others. But I think that work that she's done around, you know, financial equity, payday lending - she has been a consumer advocate her entire time. She was there, you know, to expand the ACA and access, the things that all families and communities of color really care about - making sure our schools are good, making sure that health care access is good and making sure you're not being preyed upon.

And I think the more that that gets out there - she's done this. She's done it on the biggest stage. She has a track record. And folks want to know, and they'll be listening now. So I think, you know, it's not - our senators aren't household names to everybody when they start. She doesn't have billions of dollars. Well, what she has is a work ethic and a track record that when people start to hear about it, I think - you know, people are talking about being surprised. My only surprise was she didn't peak earlier because people who know her, like her.

GREENE: Well, let me ask you, I mean - and I should mention, I mean, we are going to much more diverse states now in this race...

WALZ: Yes.

GREENE: ...You say, you know, that we talk about her record. And now that she has become a serious contender, I mean, there are questions coming out about her time as a prosecutor in Minnesota, particularly this case of Myon Burrell - convicted in a murder case under her watch, looks like some questionable circumstances - no DNA evidence, no fingerprints. And I just want to hear from Leslie Redmond, who leads the Minneapolis chapter of the NAACP. As some questions about this case have risen, she called on Klobuchar to suspend her campaign over this case.


LESLIE REDMOND: What I need people to understand is that this is not about partisanship, and it's not about politics. This is about justice. This is about what's right and what's wrong.

GREENE: What can you tell African American leaders in South Carolina who listen to that and have questions themselves?

WALZ: Well, I can tell you, since I've worked with the senator starting in '06 - as I said, I went into the House, she went into the Senate now as governor - that her commitment to racial equity or getting this right - certainly these are complex cases. She ran the biggest, you know, DA office in the state of Minnesota. She obviously did not have this case individually.

I think, as she said, if there's evidence out there - and I'm saying this as governor, if there's new evidence or an opportunity to look at the Burrell case, that's absolutely what should happen. But what I can tell you is that the systemic issues we had at one time in America don't run just through Minnesota; they ran elsewhere. And I know that Amy's time in the Senate and the way she looks at this now is is that, yes, there are things that we need to take a look at. There are cases...

GREENE: So you think she should - while she's running for president, she owes it to people to look back and look at some of the specifics of this case...

WALZ: I don't think she...

GREENE: ...And own up to things if she has to?

WALZ: I don't think she does. I think the state of Minnesota, I think the current DA's office - she wasn't there when the second case was tried that had the exact same result. She wasn't even in the office. So it's a systemic issue that runs through the district attorney's office. It's a systemic issue in the justice system in Minnesota. And it's one of the things we're looking at that, yes - and I think she said that.

GREENE: But, I mean, she's senator now. She could look into this and dig in if she wanted to. And if this is a concern as she tries to win South Carolina, should she do it?

WALZ: Well, I think that's what she's put out there. She said she's open to that. If there's the belief that the folks who are there right now - she as senator, you know, can't reach down and reopen a case in Hennepin County. But what she has said is if there's the belief that this is - you know, people are taking a look at it, we should look at it.

It's the same thing that I think you see the attorney general here in Minnesota talking about, to take a look at that. And I think that's the type of leadership people are looking at. When these problems arise, go back and talk about them and look at them. And if mistakes were made, which they very well could have been made, we should find that out and move forward. I think that's what people are looking at, leadership, not this blind adherence to, you know...

GREENE: All right, Governor. Well, we'll...

WALZ: (Unintelligible).

GREENE: We'll have to stop there. Governor Tim Walz of Minnesota, thanks so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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