The moment Senator Amy Klobuchar walked off the debate stage in Iowa on Tuesday night, the most pressing and newsworthy question reporters asked her had nothing to do with her performance moments earlier or exactly how she planned to win that state’s first-in-the-nation presidential caucuses three weeks later.
Instead, the queries were about Senate rules for the upcoming impeachment trial of President Trump, set to begin on Tuesday.
This focus on impeachment probably wasn’t meant to be dismissive of Klobuchar’s chances of becoming president, but was a recognition that her opinion matters: She is the lead Democrat on the Senate Rules Committee.
The episode shows just how politically frustrating the next week could be for the Minnesota senator. After all, if it is a foregone conclusion that the Republican-controlled Senate will vote to acquit Trump, then there is probably no politician in the United States who is dreading the impeachment trial — and the uncertainty of its length — more than Klobuchar.
In the past month, Klobuchar has raised eyebrows as her poll numbers have risen, particularly in Iowa, where she has focused most of her attention as a senator from next door. She is now in fifth place and knocking on the door to enter the top four.
“The timing of this impeachment trial is really unfortunate for Klobuchar,” said Jeff Link, the onetime chief of staff to former Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa and a former top staffer on the Al Gore and Barack Obama campaigns. Link hasn’t endorsed a candidate in 2020. “What really fueled her rise was the amount of time she spent in the state. This impeachment trial might freeze that and not help her build more momentum.”
No one on the debate stage Tuesday night has even come close to doing 165 events over 61 days in Iowa, as Klobuchar has, according to a Des Moines Register candidate tracker. She crammed in stops in 27 of the state’s 99 counties in December alone. Included were days that had as many as nine events.
In this sense, Klobuchar was adhering to the “Nagle rules” (named after former longtime Democratic congressman Dave Nagle) for how presidential candidates win the Iowa caucuses. Rule number one: Organize. Rule number two: Organize. Rule number three: You get hot at the end.
Klobuchar was getting hot at the right time. But then House Speaker Nancy Pelosi decided to finally hand over the impeachment documents to the Senate, setting the trial in motion.
If previous rules are any guide, during an impeachment trial Senators will be required to sit quietly as jurors in the Senate chamber from Monday through Saturday until the trial ends. That means Klobuchar will have a hard time keeping the momentum going 1,000 miles from Des Moines.
Worse, she could possibly cede this energy to non-senators like Pete Buttigieg, Joe Biden, Tom Steyer, and Andrew Yang, who can campaign whenever and wherever they want.
To be sure, other presidential candidates like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders will also be sidelined for the trial. But they have money to run a barrage of television ads and paper over their absence. Klobuchar has raised significantly less campaign cash and relies on local events and local press coverage more.
As she has for weeks, Klobuchar said during the debate that she has “a constitutional duty” to be a juror and not worry about politics. In New Hampshire last week, she told reporters she will rely on surrogates to campaign on her behalf in Iowa, including her daughter and husband.
But one has to wonder if, privately, she asks whether this constitutional duty could be done another month.
James Pindell can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @jamespindell or subscribe to his Ground Game newsletter on politics: http://pages.email.bostonglobe.com/GroundGameSignUp.