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Klobuchar: Woman with Buttigieg's record would miss debate

From left: Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Mayor Pete Buttigieg speak during a fund-raising fish fry for U.S. Rep. Abby Finkenauer, D-Iowa, Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019, at Hawkeye Downs Expo Center in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Photo: AP Photos/Charlie Neibergall
From left: Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Mayor Pete Buttigieg speak during a fund-raising fish fry for U.S. Rep. Abby Finkenauer, D-Iowa, Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019, at Hawkeye Downs Expo Center in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Updated: November 11, 2019 04:31 PM

Sen. Amy Klobuchar says she and other top female presidential candidates wouldn't be on the debate stage if they had the same experience as Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

The Minnesota Democrat said Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union" that she believes the 37-year-old mayor of South Bend, Indiana, is qualified but that she's the better candidate.

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"I'm the one from the Midwest that has actually won in a statewide race over and over again," the three-term senator said, adding that she can bring in voters like those in Kentucky and Virginia who supported Democrats in last week's election. "Those are the kind of voters I have won. And that's not true of Mayor Pete. That's just a fact."

Klobuchar isn't the first to raise the issue of sexism in an election that features a historic number of female candidates. Many voters are still wary after the nation's first female presidential nominee, Democrat Hillary Clinton, a woman with decades of experience in public office, lost the 2016 election to Republican Donald Trump, a man with no political experience. The question of who is best positioned to defeat Trump has been a main concern of Democrats in the 2020 election cycle.

Buttigieg has been one of the surprises of the Democratic presidential primary, rising from an unknown to a top candidate who has raised more money than almost all his rivals.

He is a Harvard graduate, Rhodes scholar and military veteran who is openly gay and married to his husband. He's won over voters who say that he's intelligent and that they appreciate his calm demeanor, his oratory skills and his message of generational change.

"I think, obviously, sexism is a force in politics. I also believe that I've gotten to where we've gotten to by having the right message, the right organization, reaching out to voters and convincing more and more of them to join this vision," Buttigieg said Monday. "And if I can continue to do that, then we'll win, and if I can't, well, that's what we've got to do."

Kimberly Peeler-Allen, a visiting practitioner at the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University and co-founder of Higher Heights, which supports black women in politics, said Klobuchar's comments were about more than Buttigieg.

She said there's an expectation of what people in leadership, particularly the presidency, should look like in this country, and pointed to female mayors of cities that are similarly sized to South Bend who likely wouldn't be taken seriously as presidential candidates. That's particularly true for black women, she said.

"It is more of a call out of the electorate and the powerbrokers and media and how they're covering people than on Mayor Pete himself," Peeler-Allen said.

Buttigieg's own sex could also wind up hurting him if a man wins the nomination, she said, because a male Democratic nominee will almost certainly choose a woman, likely a woman of color, as a running mate.

Buttigieg has run for statewide office once, in 2010, when he was the Democratic nominee for treasurer in the red state of Indiana. He lost to the Republican by more than 400,000 votes, winning about 38%.

He easily won his second term as mayor of South Bend, a community of about 100,000 people, with just over 8,500 ballots cast for him.

Klobuchar has never lost a campaign, dating back to her bid to be the top prosecutor of Minnesota's largest county and her first Senate race in 2006, when she became the first woman elected to the U.S. Senate from Minnesota. She won her third term last year with 60% of the vote in Minnesota, which went for Clinton in 2016 but which Trump hopes to make a play for in 2020.

Buttigieg said performance in previous elections may not be the best test of a candidate's electability. Trump had never held public office before he won in 2016.

"If the measure of whether somebody can become president is how many votes they've gotten in previous elections, we wouldn't be here," Buttigieg said during a bus tour through New Hampshire. "We're living under the Donald Trump presidency right now."

He also has faced bias over his sexual orientation, which some people see as a barrier to his being elected, particularly among African American voters. Buttigieg has encountered anti-gay protesters at stops on the campaign trail.

The other female candidates who have met the Democratic National Committee qualifications for at least one debate are Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, author Marianne Willliamson and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who dropped out of the race in August.

During the CNN interview, Klobuchar focus on the candidacies of Warren, Harris and herself.

"Do I think that we would be standing on that stage if we had the experience that (Buttigieg) had? No, I don't. Maybe we're held to a different standard."

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The Associated Press

(Copyright 2019 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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