WASHINGTON – Sen. Amy Klobuchar recently used the national platform provided by her appearance on the Bill Maher show to make a pitch for its liberal-leaning viewers to vote for Democratic Senate candidates in November.
Klobuchar, like fellow Democratic Sen. Tina Smith, is not on the ballot this year, but they are still campaigning – for other Democrats.
And there’s a good reason for it. If Democrats lose control of the Senate, both Klobuchar and Smith would lose an incredible amount of clout. Their upward climb on key committees would be stalled and they would have little hope of pressing forward with their legislative agendas.
Even their campaign fundraising and ability to win approval of money for local projects, known as earmarks, would be affected if Minnesota’s Democratic senators find themselves in the minority after November’s ballots are counted.
Both Klobuchar and Smith have served in the minority before, and they know being in the majority is much better.
“Being in the majority means we have a real opportunity to advance legislative priorities,” Smith said. “Republicans are obstructionists.”
If Democrats lose control of the Senate, a Republican majority leader would set the agenda in that chamber, and it will be Democrats who are likely to resort to the filibuster to derail GOP priorities. A Republican takeover would not mean gridlock would end.
But it would mean Klobuchar would no longer chair the Senate Rules Committee and a judiciary subcommittee focused on consumer rights. Her ascent up the rungs of the powerful Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, where she is currently the No. 2 Democrat, would be virtually erased.
Smith, meanwhile, would no longer chair a banking subcommittee and could lose her seat on one of the other committees she now belongs to as Republicans would be able replace some less senior Democratic committee members, depending on how may seats the GOP gains in November.
“You move from making deals to hoping you will be part of a deal,” said University of Minnesota political science professor Larry Jacobs of Senate Democrats if there’s a turnover.
The fate of the closely divided Senate, which now includes 48 Democrats, two independents who caucus with Democrats and 50 Republicans, will be decided by a handful of key races. Both Klobuchar and Smith already have donated heavily to those races, as well as to those of other Democrats, and their financial help is expected to continue as races heat up after Labor Day.
Minnesota’s senators can afford to be generous since they have continued to raise campaign cash and don’t have to spend it defending their seats this year. As of midyear, Klobuchar reported raising nearly $4 million in her personal campaign fund this cycle and Smith raised about $1.4 million.
As of June 30, Klobuchar donated more than $160,000 from her personal campaign account to other Democratic senators. She also made other donations to candidates that totaled $132,500 from her Follow the North Star Fund, a PAC established by lawmakers in bids to win support from their colleagues and increase their clout in their party.
The senators have also made blast email appeals to their donors to give to Democrats in key Senate races. And Klobuchar traveled to North Carolina last month to stump for Democrat Cheri Beasley, who is running for an open seat.
Jacobs said that in helping other Democrats, Klobuchar and Smith are “clearing debts” they accumulated when they ran for re-election and were aided by party colleagues. Klobuchar and Smith may be also trying to collect “chits” from Democratic candidates, who – if they win their races – could help them in the future, Jacobs said.
“This is very much how the game is played,” he said.
Jacobs also said that by currying favor with other Democrats this campaign season, Klobuchar is strengthening her base of support among elected officials if she decides to run for the White House again, as she did in 2020. Klobuchar may or may not challenge Biden if he seeks re-election in two years, but could very well take another shot at the presidency in 2028, Jacobs said.
“It’s 100% she will run again,” the professor said.
Senate up for grabs
Democrats have an advantage in that their party has to defend fewer Senate seats in November’s tumultuous midterms. Fourteen Democrat-controlled seats and 21 Republican-controlled seats are up for election.
Just a month or so ago, many political analysts were predicting the GOP would wrest control of both the U.S. House and U.S. Senate from Democrats. While most still predict Republicans are favored to win control of the House, the party’s chances to take over the Senate seem to be weakening thanks to President Biden’s improving poll numbers, a backlash over the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision and poor performances by some Republican Senate candidates.
Some Democrats, including Smith, are optimistic that the party could actually make gains in the Senate in the fall.
“Adding a few more pro-choice Democrats could make a difference,” Smith said.
A former Planned Parenthood executive, Smith has been sharply focused on the fight over abortion in this political season.
She cited two Senate races that could turn into pickups for abortion-rights Democrats: the contest between Democrat John Fetterman and Republican Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania and Democrat Mandela Barnes’ effort to unseat Republican Sen. Ron Johnson in Wisconsin.
Because 60 votes would be needed to overcome the Senate’s filibuster and Democratic gains are likely to fall much short of that, Republican votes would be needed to approve abortion-rights related legislation or other Democratic bills. Smith said that’s possible.
Minnesota’s Democratic senators are also helping DFL candidates for the state House and Senate, which the upper body is currently under Republican control.
“If we had a Democratic state Senate, that would make a huge difference,” Smith said.
Besides giving federal candidates money from her campaign war chest, Smith has hosted a fundraiser in her home for female DFL state candidates, as well as a separate fundraiser for Rep. Angie Craig, D-2nd Dist., who is in a tough fight for re-election.