On the campaign trail

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., right, introduces herself to voters at the Waterhouse restaurant in Peterborough Monday. Her visit to the region also included hiking Pack Monadnock and dinner in Keene.

PETERBOROUGH — U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., familiarized herself with the Monadnock Region over the weekend, with family outings that included a visit to Walpole, a hike up Pack Monadnock and brunch at The Stage Restaurant in downtown Keene.

By Monday morning, it was back to business in Peterborough for the presidential candidate, who made her pitch to voters as the Democrat best positioned to defeat President Donald Trump in 2020.

“The number one thing I hear from Democrats, besides all of the issues I laid out here today, is people coming up to me and saying, ‘I just want to win. I wanna beat Donald Trump,’ “ Klobuchar told a crowd of well over 50 people at the Waterhouse restaurant along the Contoocook River.

The turnout surprised Klobuchar, she said, with two groups of spillover spectators listening to her speech in adjoining rooms.

Klobuchar touted her track record of victories and accomplishments in Minnesota, such as winning the congressional district formerly held by Republican firebrand and 2012 presidential candidate Michele Bachmann. That particular line got some of the most fervent applause from Monday’s crowd.

Although Trump lost Minnesota in 2016 by 1.5 percent, narrow victories in other Midwestern states, such as Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio, were key to his electoral college win over former U.S. secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

To have any chance at unseating Trump in 2020, Klobuchar argued, the Democrats will have to back a nominee who understands rural issues.

“I am the only one in the race who has repeatedly won Trump counties and Trump districts,” Klobuchar said. “... And I did not do that, Democrats, by selling out on our values. I did that by reaching out, by finding common ground, by figuring out how to get things done for the people of our country.”

State Sen. Jeanne Dietsch, who got a shoutout from Klobuchar in her introductory remarks, said she thinks the Minnesotan would be a good match-up against Trump.

“I think it’s interesting to visualize how Amy would stand up to Trump’s insults, and I think she can do it, and I think that seeing Mr. Trump attack a woman from the Midwest might not go quite so well,” Dietsch, D-Peterborough, told The Sentinel after Monday’s meet-and-greet.

Dietsch and others at the Waterhouse said they were struck by Klobuchar’s poise and toughness, with the candidate emphasizing the importance of “grit” in her stump speech.

After putting herself through Yale University and later the University of Chicago Law School — in the same graduating class as former FBI director James Comey, with whom Klobuchar joked Monday that she “started the deep state” — the candidate rose through the ranks of Minnesota politics as Hennepin County attorney before becoming the North Star State’s first elected female senator in 2006.

Over the summer, Klobuchar rose to national prominence after an exchange with U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh during his confirmation hearings. Kavanaugh, who was facing an accusation of sexual misconduct at a high school party in 1982, asked Klobuchar if she had ever experienced a “blackout” from excessive drinking.

Klobuchar told Kavanaugh about seeing her father, former Minneapolis Star Tribune journalist James Klobuchar, as he struggled with alcohol.

Linda LaDouceur, a retiree from Wilton, said that exchange put Klobuchar on her radar and that she was drawn to the senator’s composure in such a tense situation.

However, LaDouceur said another aspect of Klobuchar’s self-described grit troubled her, after reading about abusive behavior the senator has been accused of exhibiting toward her staff.

The New York Times and BuzzFeed News have reported allegations by former staffers, including that Klobuchar accidentally hit an aide with a binder she’d thrown across a room and ate a salad with a comb after berating an aide for forgetting a fork.

Klobuchar has responded to the reports by saying she holds herself and her staff to high standards and told Recode’s Kara Swisher at the South by Southwest conference in Austin, Texas, that the salad incident was “a mom thing” of her trying to prove a point.

Ted Graham and Rob Cini, retirees from Francestown, told The Sentinel they were impressed with Klobuchar’s performance, struck by how “tough” she is both on and off camera.

Graham added that her geographic identity is an important factor in the race.

“A thing going for her, for me, is being from the Midwest,” Graham told The Sentinel upon leaving the restaurant Monday, citing the strategic importance of states in that region in the Electoral College.

Despite having to travel farther to New Hampshire than candidates from neighboring states, such as U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Klobuchar frequently translated her Midwestern political experiences to solutions for problems facing rural communities in New Hampshire.

“I think that the way you (attract younger professionals) is bridge this rural-urban divide,” Klobuchar said in an interview after the meet-and-greet. “I’m uniquely good at that. I’ve been working on it for a long time.”

Klobuchar’s prescription for bolstering rural economies would have fit perfectly into last week’s panel discussion featuring U.S. Rep. Ann M. Kuster, D-N.H., in Peterborough on the future of the Monadnock Region’s workforce.

“And if you want kids to be able to live where they grew up, or move to these areas, you need to make it work for them,” Klobuchar said, adding that the federal government should target affordable housing and infrastructure to attract younger professionals and keep businesses competitive.

She also addressed a common complaint in the Granite State, which she said should be the first thing government does to help rural communities.

“That means, first of all, you need broadband that works — high speed, not just like, oh, you can send one email to your mom. It should be that you can actually run a business, especially with all of the small businesses we have in New Hampshire.”

Jake Lahut can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1435, or jlahut@keenesentinel.com. Follow him on Twitter @JakeLahut.