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Amy Klobuchar shakes up New Hampshire primary

Senator Amy Klobuchar waved to her supporters Tuesday night.
Senator Amy Klobuchar waved to her supporters Tuesday night.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar defied expectations Tuesday night with a strong third-place showing in the New Hampshire presidential primary that catapulted her into contention for the Democratic nomination and made her, for the first time in the race, the woman to watch in 2020.

“She’s truly our comeback kid, isn’t she?” said Debora Pignatelli, a New Hampshire executive councilor who introduced Klobuchar at her primary night party at the Grappone Conference Center in Concord.

Amy Klobuchar celebrates strong New Hampshire showing
"I'm Amy Klobuchar, and I will beat Donald Trump." (Video: Handout, Photo: John Tlumacki|Globe Staff)

Klobuchar reveled in the surprise surge, telling a wildly cheering crowd, “Hello, America. I’m Amy Klobuchar, and I will beat Donald Trump."

“While there are still ballots left to count,” she said, "we have beaten the odds every step of the way.”

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Early returns showed Klobuchar placing third in New Hampshire, behind Senator Bernie Sanders and former South Bend, Ind., mayor Pete Buttigieg. She vaulted into the top tier after a particularly strong debate performance Friday night, just as many wavering New Hampshire voters were forcing themselves to settle on a candidate. A tidal wave of more than $3 million in small online donations had poured in by Monday.

“Watching her performance in the debate on Friday night changed my perception of her,” said Melissa Walters, a supporter from Bow, N.H. “I just thought Amy on Friday night had the best answers and seems like she could beat Donald Trump."

Women like Walters — who brought her 12-year-old daughter, Hannah Pawlowski, to Klobuchar’s election night party — also appear to have helped her over the finish line.

ABC News reported preliminary exit polls showing Klobuchar leading among women voters and benefiting from a substantial gender gap. Sanderswas doing 9 points better with men than women; Klobuchar was doing 9 points better with women than men. Klobuchar also claimed college-educated women voters — winning 32 percent, followed by 22 percent for Buttigieg, 19 percent for Sanders, and just 13 percent for Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, ABC News reported.

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“Pete’s too young. Biden and Bernie are too old. Elizabeth Warren, I think, just has more negative a message," said Margaret Mitchell, 42, a physician assistant from Concord, of her down-to-the-wire decision to vote for Klobuchar. “I thought she did really well in the debates."

Klobuchar focused her closing argument on her centrist appeal, which she argued would make her a viable alternative to President Trump.

“Donald Trump’s worst nightmare is that the people in the middle — the people who have had enough of the name-calling and the mudslinging — have someone to vote for in November,” Klobuchar told her cheering supporters as they waved American flags and her green “Amy for America” signs.

The New Hampshire results seemed to indicate the pitch worked for many who find her pragmatic politics more palatable than the notion of a more progressive Democratic candidate. Some of her supporters touted her potential crossover appeal as a nominee.

“I have so many people in my family who are Trump supporters who said if it was her, they’d think about it," said Jenna Breitbarth-Guidi, a Salem, Mass., evangelical who is sold on Klobuchar.

“I’m from the Midwest so she really resonates with me," she said.

Highlights from the New Hampshire primary
Candidates reflect on a busy, first-in-the-nation primary. (Video: Globe Staff, Photo: Jessica Rinaldi|Globe Staff)

Breitbarth-Guidi brought her 5-year-old daughter, Lucy Guidi, to Klobuchar’s primary night party, to satisfy the girl’s burgeoning interest in politics. But she said that, come the general election, she will not be able to let her daughter watch the debates that include Trump.

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“Because of the way he speaks to other people," she said. "We teach her, even if you don’t like someone, you don’t speak that way.”

Klobuchar often says that the election will be a "patriotism check” and a “decency check” on Trump.

Klobuchar targeted Trump directly in her remarks Tuesday night, telling supporters that the president always blames others for his misfortunes.

“When I am behind that desk, I will take responsibility instead of passing it on,” she said. “I will bring this country together instead of tearing it apart.”

A sturdy, unflashy candidate who had announced her candidacy amid a Minnesota snowstorm a year and a day earlier, Klobuchar said she had been counted out many times over the past year.

“Tonight is about grit, and my story like so many of yours is one of resilience,” she said. “America deserves a president who is as resilient as her people.”

For much of the run-up to the New Hampshire primary, Klobuchar was polling low but steady, lagging behind four top rivals: Sanders, Buttigieg, Warren, and former vice president Joe Biden. Outpaced Tuesday night, Warren offered congratulations "to my friend and colleague Amy Klobuchar for showing just how wrong the pundits can be when they count a woman out.” The crowd watching the remarks at Klobuchar’s party hooted in approval.

The two women represented the opposite poles of the Democratic field — Warren the progressive, to Klobuchar’s Midwestern moderation — and shared a split endorsement from The New York Times that recognized the appeal of each approach to Democrats torn over the best strategy to counter Trump. But polls showed the other moderate candidates — Buttigieg and Biden — outpacing Klobuchar until recent days.

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But by Tuesday, Biden was so far gone that he surrendered early, leaving the state well before the polls closed.

“I just don’t feel like his heart is in it,” said Deborah Goodwin, a 63-year-old retiree from Concord who voted for Sanders.

But like many Democrats on Tuesday, she expressed such deep disenchantment with Trump that she vowed to accept whichever Democrat prevailed as nominee.

“I would take Mickey Mouse. I would vote for anyone. I would vote for me," Goodwin said. "It could be anybody on the ballot, I would vote for them against Trump.”


Stephanie Ebbert can be reached at Stephanie.Ebbert@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @StephanieEbbert