WASHINGTON - Sen. Amy Klobuchar's presidential campaign launched in February on a snow-pelted stage in Minneapolis. It has since struggled to gain traction in a crowded 2020 field - and former vice president Joe Biden, who leads the polls, has a centrist pitch that overlaps with that of the Minnesota Democrat.
On Monday, Klobuchar sought to remind Democratic primary voters that Biden is not their only moderate option in a party that has veered to the left. In an hour-long interview, she took on liberal proposals championed by some leading White House rivals, such as Medicare-for-all, and urged her party to build upon President Barack Obama's health-care law rather than replace it.
"I don't believe we should kick half of America off their private insurance in four years, which is exactly, very clearly what that bill says, the Medicare-for-all bill," Klobuchar said at a Washington Post Live event. She instead called for adding a "public option" to the law as a way to bring consumers' insurance costs down.
When asked how her plan differs from Biden's, which would also add a public option to current law, Klobuchar joked, "You should ask him what makes his plan different than me, because I came in first."
Klobuchar's remarks, eight days before the second Democratic debate kicks off in Detroit, offered a preview of her plans for that prime-time stage and for the rest of the summer. She put an emphasis on her policy work in the Senate, her track record winning in areas where President Donald Trump has been popular, and her profile as a former prosecutor who gained prominence during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
"I'm from the Midwest, and the one thing that really unites our party right now is that we want to win - and everyone knows in 2016 we had some major issues in the Midwest," Klobuchar said. "I have won the congressional districts where Donald Trump won by more than 20 points. And I have not done it by selling out. I've done it by going to where people are, by being honest with them."
Klobuchar's moderate, low-key politics have put her decidedly at odds with much of her competition. She calls herself a liberal Democrat but touts her pragmatic streak and her work with Republicans on legislation. Beyond her aversion to Medicare-for-all proposals, Klobuchar has not endorsed the legalization of marijuana or free tuition at all public colleges. She does not support decriminalizing unauthorized border crossings, either, although she did say Monday that she was willing to "look at that law."
Issues such as election security have been front and center in her campaign, after her work on bills such as the Secure Elections Act. She said Monday that Senate Republicans have privately told her they are "embarrassed" by the GOP's refusal to move ahead with such legislation, which she said would protect the integrity of ballots and fund more information-sharing among federal and local officials.
"They know it should go forward," Klobuchar said. "I mean, why even go to the Senate if you actually are allowing elections to be corrupted?" She added, "Why would you not want to protect our democracy from paid ads that are bought in rubles or paid ads that have fake video?"
Biden, however, is not Klobuchar's only competition as she casts herself as someone who can win back Trump country - and as she tries to climb out of the low single digits in Democratic presidential polls.
Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, has made inroads with his call for generational change. When asked whether Buttigieg's tenure as a small-city mayor is enough experience for the presidency, Klobuchar did not directly criticize Buttigieg but did say experience should matter.
"I will make the case that having some experience and getting things done does matter," she said. "I know that's not a cool thing to say right now, but I think it should be."
Asked about another rival, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., a liberal favorite who has become known on the trail for her frequent rollout of policy proposals, Klobuchar said she, too, believes that big ideas are important. But she said she would focus on more immediate policy targets if elected.
"One thing that differentiates me is that I don't just have plans, I have deadlines," Klobuchar said, referring to a list of 130 goals she would tackle in the first 100 days of her presidency. "You can't just have long-term plans that'll take years to get done or not get done at all. You have to jump-start this democracy."
Klobuchar's agenda items include signing the United States back into an international climate-change agreement, providing a path to citizenship for young undocumented immigrants known as "dreamers" and reauthorizing the Voting Rights Act.
Turning to the subject of Trump, Klobuchar accused him of "basking in" the chants of "Send her back!" that broke out at one of his recent rallies and said she is concerned about the safety of Rep. Ilhan Omar, a fellow Minnesota Democrat whom Trump has attacked with racist tweets and demeaning statements.
"He has chosen to go after four women," Klobuchar said, referring to Omar and three of her freshman Democratic colleagues. "He has chosen to tell them they should 'go home,' basically, which is a racist code word."
Klobuchar said Democrats must counter Trump but warned that they cannot be pulled into a political riptide in which they spend each day responding to him rather than making their own case to voters.
"Every day, it's a trap," she said. "Yes, you stand up [against racism], but you have to acknowledge that it's a trap."
While Klobuchar gave support to Omar amid Trump's continued barbs, she said she would not commit to inviting Omar to speak at the 2020 Democratic National Convention, should she be the nominee. Klobuchar has distanced herself in the past from Omar's comments about Israel and noted Monday that "we have some disagreements politically - I've made that clear."
"I wouldn't commit to anyone speaking right now at the Democratic convention - well, except Barack Obama," she said.
Klobuchar said it would take a mixture of honesty and humor for a Democrat to beat Trump, who mocked her as "a Snowman(woman)" in February after she kicked off her campaign during a blizzard in her home state. On Monday, she repeated the retort issued earlier this year.
"I'd like to see how your hair would fare in a blizzard," Klobuchar said. "Being blunt, being tough, being honest is going to matter in this election."
Closing the interview, Klobuchar briefly responded to a New Yorker article published Monday about former senator Al Franken in which the Minnesota Democrat told the magazine he "absolutely" regrets resigning from the Senate in 2017 after several women accused him of unwanted kissing or touching. At the time, Klobuchar did not publicly call for him to step down but did condemn his behavior.
Would she support a political comeback by Franken?
"No, I have not talked about him having a political comeback," she said. "I do think that he's going to continue to do good work, and that is his plan now and it's just going to be through different ways, including this podcast that he's put out."
This article was written by Robert Costa and Amy B Wang, reporters for The Washington Post.