Amy Klobuchar

Outside in Minneapolis, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar announced Feb. 10 that she is seeking the Democratic nomination for president. 

Amy Klobuchar is running for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020, and Beto O’Rourke may run. It is way too early to make endorsements — but the senator from Minnesota and the former congressman from Texas are starting in the right place: Wisconsin.

O’Rourke swung through Milwaukee and Madison on Friday. Klobuchar made her first campaign stop after announcing her candidacy in Eau Claire on Saturday.

The November 2020 election is 20 months away. But O’Rourke and Klobuchar get what will be required of any Democrat who proposes to displace Donald Trump.

This is not just a matter of home-state pride for Wisconsinites. This is Practical Politics 101.

It is embarrassing but true that Trump’s claiming of the presidency was made possible by Wisconsin.

Trump lost the national popular vote in 2016 by almost 3 million ballots. But that did not matter because of the results from the Badger State.

After a fall campaign in which the Republican campaigned in the state while Democrat Hillary Clinton made no stops after the April primary, Trump prevailed by the narrowest margin in the final tally from Wisconsin. Trump won just 47.2 percent of the vote, which means that a solid majority of Wisconsinites did not want him to become president. But Clinton won just 46.5 percent. That gave the Republican a 22,748 vote advantage out of almost 2.8 million votes cast. In other words, two candidates who essentially tied failed to excite majority support in Wisconsin.

Yet, under the archaic and anti-democratic Electoral College system, Wisconsin’s 10 electoral votes were cast for Trump. In combination with the electoral votes he collected from narrow wins in Michigan and Pennsylvania, that was enough to give Trump the presidency.

This newspaper has long favored the elimination of the Electoral College. But that necessary reform is unlikely to come before the 2020 election. So the Democrats who propose to challenge Trump must develop popular-vote AND electoral-vote strategies.

If there were no Electoral College, Wisconsin would still be a vital stop on the presidential campaign trail. Only fools imagine that candidates seeking popular-vote majorities would skip a chance to campaign in maximum-turnout communities such as Madison and in competitive regions such as western Wisconsin.

But under the existing system, Wisconsin is not just a way station on the campaign trail. It is the essential stop.

That’s why O’Rourke was smart to come from Texas to a state where the snow is piled high and temperatures hover around zero.

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The Texan did not just touch an airport tarmac, as candidates frequently do. He spent serious time with Milwaukee Area Technical College students and then with an overflow crowd on the UW-Madison campus. "Before even deciding or announcing,” he said, “I want to make sure to get a chance to meet people on a human-to-human level, not in a crowd, not as part of a campaign, but in the most honest, raw, real way possible.”

The most important comment O’Rourke made regarding a potential 2020 campaign was an acknowledgment that Wisconsin is “too often overlooked, the conversation does not begin until too late.”

Klobuchar was equally on target when she announced: “We’re starting in Wisconsin because as you remember there wasn’t a lot of campaigning in Wisconsin in 2016. With me, that changes. I’m going to be there a lot.”

Wisconsinites are clearly ready for the attention. Klobuchar’s Saturday morning event at Eau Claire’s SHIFT Cyclery & Coffee Bar was packed to capacity.

Democrats who campaign in Wisconsin, early and often, are making a smart investment of their time and energy. The state that turned out Republican Gov. Scott Walker in 2018 — and that rejected every statewide Republican candidate in the same election — is ready to turn away from the right-wing policies and crude politics manifested by Trump. All that’s required is for the eventual Democratic nominee to embrace progressive policies AND show up.

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