Hours after her news conference about gun reform at the Arkansas State Capitol on Thursday, Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), stood before a packed house on the stage at South on Main in Little Rock.
The event, “A Naturally Blue Evening,” was the first of a three-day lineup making up the Democratic Party of Arkansas’ (DPA) Third Annual Summer Gathering. The gathering continues with the DPA Block Party on Friday and concludes with the Clinton Dinner on Saturday, which is being keynoted by another presidential candidate, former rep. Beto O’Rourke.
Past pulls of the DPA at previous Summer Gathering events have included Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, former Georgia Rep. Stacey Abrams and former Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander.
Upon Klobuchar’s arrival on Thursday night, DPA Communications Director Reed Brewer opened the floor for all attendees to gather in line to take a picture with the senator. While constituents and some of Arkansas’ democratic leaders anxiously waited, single file, for their turn in the frame with Klobuchar, a live music performance passed the time and livened the atmosphere. Apt lyrics from hits like, “My Girl,” and “Brick House” for the female candidate filled the air and encouraged the sold-out crowd to sing-a-long and cut a rug.
Perhaps the most relevant track performed during this downtime contained a motif that was not as directly apparent, however: “Route 66.” A classic song about one of the original U.S. highways, the 2,500 miles long “Mother Road” that traverses a landscape of mostly Republican strongholds; “fly-over states” that, in recent history, Democrats have not fared well in. Often labeled a moderate in the Democratic landscape, Klobuchar would hope to appeal to many of the voters in the states along this highway (and their like-minds, elsewhere).
Arkansas state senator Joyce Elliott (D-Little Rock) got the night (officially) started after the photo-ops. Jumping on the stage after the hour-long dancing and singing to the music renditions, exclaiming “Democrats are rocking,” to wild applause. Elliott introduced to the stage the prelude to Klobuchar, Ken Martin, the chairman of the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, and former staffer for the Clinton/Gore presidential campaign in 1992.
Martin’s message was a reflective one, which may surprise many outside of the party (and may have even surprised many of the attendees). Telling a story about his father-in-law, who voted to elect Donald Trump in 2016, Martin stated, candidly, “[the Democratic Party’s] message did not resonate as well as ‘Make America Great Again.’”
Before giving up the microphone, Martin issued action calls to “send Tom Cotton back to Dardanelle… Elect Josh Mahony,” and implored those in attendance to not confuse unanimity with unity, to not let “perfect be the enemy of good,” and be “yellow dog Democrats.”
After a few more words by another state senator, Linda Chesterfield (D-Little Rock), the crowd was roused and ready for the main event.
Klobuchar opened on introductions that segued into a story about her first time in the White House, during the Clinton administration, when she was a district attorney in Minnesota. She was set to introduce the then-President Bill Clinton at an event, and almost walked on stage (in his moment) to the tune of “Hail to the Chief,” the presidential anthem.
“I start walking in and all of a sudden I feel this big hand on my shoulder and this voice says, ‘I know you’re going to do great out there, but when they play that song, I usually go first,’” Klobuchar remembers President Clinton saying. “I can tell you, Arkansas Democrats,” Klobuchar says behind a grin. “That may have been my first time in the White House, but it won’t be my last.”
Beneath the laughs and cheers that this story achieved, the stage was set. Klobuchar carried an animation and humanity that is not always evident on the debate stage or in front of a camera. She seemed to be in her element in this intimate, southern atmosphere.
Perhaps, for good reason. A common theme of her half-hour speech was the comparison between the voter demographics of Minnesota and Arkansas and correlating that this makes her the right choice for Arkansans. If nothing else, the night made it apparent why she is so popular in Minnesota, even in the rural areas.
She spoke of her family history as the granddaughter of a miner, the daughter of a teacher and a newspaperman, the first woman elected to the U.S. Senate from the state of Minnesota and now a presidential candidate for a major party. “That’s what the shared dreams of this country are about,” she went on to say. “The simple idea that no matter where you come from, or what you look like, or who you know, or who you love or where you worship, that you can make it in the United States of America.”
When she came back around to the topic she had talked about earlier in the day, gun reform, she made a point to emphasize her voice, and how she was not talking about it in “New York,” or in “Minneapolis,” but rather, in rural America. “Because you, like my state, have a rich tradition of hunting, right?” she posited.
She talked about the importance of rural broadband and rural hospitals, two topics of conversation that Arkansans know well.
On healthcare (the most divisive topic among democrats), she made no surprises by staking her flag on the public option side of the debate and said that she would do it “right away,” theoretically utilizing it as a stepping stone for medicare for all. Essentially, a public option would provide Americans the choice to either buy into government-run health insurance or keep their private insurance plan. Not so different from our K-12 education system.
There were many other surfaces of policy that the senator touched on throughout the evening, including: the importance of community college, automatic voter registration at age 18 for all American citizens, Trump criticisms, climate change talk and overturning Citizens United, among other things.
She closed the night with another messaging story, this one of her husband. The third of three brothers, she tells, he was always the quiet one and as a child was accidentally left behind at a gas station on a family vacation. “When I lead your ticket,” Klobuchar promises. “We will not leave Arkansas and the heartland behind at the gas station.”
READ MORE: Two Presidential Candidates Heading to Little Rock