Amy Klobuchar needs black voters, but some feel 'peripheral'

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Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn speaks at the National Action Network South Carolina Ministers' Breakfast, Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020, in North Charleston, S.C. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. – It took several weeks and about two dozen emails before Amy Klobuchar agreed to sit down with the president of the progressive racial justice organization Color of Change for his videotaped podcast on the 2020 presidential race, just as almost every other candidate has done. The Minnesota senator's campaign asked Rashad Robinson to travel to Washington and book a conference room near the Capitol for the taping.

But the day before — after Robinson and four staff members had traveled from New York and paid for a conference room at a Washington hotel — Klobuchar canceled. Instead, the senator spent Jan. 10 in Iowa, campaigning. The interview eventually was rescheduled for March 20 — after more than two dozen states will have voted.

The snub sent a message, Robinson said, that the former prosecutor and three-term senator from an overwhelmingly white state didn't care much about engaging on issues important to many black voters.

It's not the first time Klobuchar has faced that charge — black activists and community leaders in Minnesota have described her as indifferent or unfocused on their priorities, particularly those related to discrimination in the criminal justice system.

Now, as Klobuchar struggles to compete for the Democratic presidential nomination, her relationship with African American voters, and her lack of familiarity to them, could be her downfall. Next up to vote is South Carolina, where African Americans make up about two-thirds of Democratic primary voters, followed by March 3 Super Tuesday contests where states with significant African American populations including North Carolina and Alabama will weigh in.

Several polls show Klobuchar with single-digit support from black voters nationally and in South Carolina. A recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll found about one-third of black voters said they didn't know Klobuchar's name.

Klobuchar says her low poll numbers indicate African American voters still need to get to know her and she intends to “earn" black voters' support. On Wednesday, she was politely received at a ministers’ breakfast sponsored by the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network in North Charleston, South Carolina. But her remarks, which included a nod to “enormous racism in our criminal justice system,” didn’t get the same level of applause that rival Pete Buttigieg did as he acknowledged that he lacked the “lived experience” of the black voters he was addressing.

Klobuchar has taken steps to introduce herself to voters and hear from them. She held a voting rights roundtable in Atlanta in the first few weeks of her campaign and attended an NAACP convention in Detroit and a breakfast with the Arkansas Democratic Black Caucus in Little Rock. But her spending on staff and ads in South Carolina, where her campaign says she has a team of about 25, is minuscule compared with rival campaigns.