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Amy Klobuchar says a woman with Pete Buttigieg’s resume wouldn’t be a viable presidential contender

Minnesota senator questions whether female candidates are being held to a "higher standard" in terms of qualifications

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Sen. Amy Klobuchar — Photo: Gage Skidmore / Flickr

Presidential candidate Amy Klobuchar is the latest female candidate to raise the question of whether sexism has played a role in the campaign, asserting that a female candidate that had the same resume as former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg would not be considered a viable candidate and would not have enough support to meet the required threshold for televised debates.

Appearing on CNN’s State of the Union earlier this week, Klobuchar was asked by host Jake Tapper about comments she made to The New York Times that were perceived as critical of Buttigieg. In response to a question about whether Buttigieg is qualified to be president, Klobuchar said he was, but that she’s the better candidate. 

“I’m the one from the Midwest that has actually won in a statewide race over and over again, including those [type of] voters that just voted in Kentucky, just voted in Virginia,” Klobuchar told Tapper, referring to recent electoral victories for Democrats. “Those are the kind of voters I have won. And that’s not true of Mayor Pete. That’s just a fact.”

Klobuchar also sought to contrast her record of accomplishment during her past 12 years in the Senate with that of Buttigieg’s as a small-city mayor, saying that her efforts to compare their records shouldn’t be unfairly characterized as “being negative.”

The three-term senator also doubled down on comments she previously made to the Times that she believes a woman running a campaign similar to Buttigieg’s — which has been based largely around his biography — would not be taken seriously or enjoy as much support as he has. A recent poll of Iowa voters showed the South Bend Mayor leading the Democratic field.

Related: Pete Buttigieg leads new Iowa poll; joins Warren, Biden, Sanders in top tier

“The last point I made in that article, is that of the women on the stage — I’m focusing here on my fellow women senators: Sen. Harris, Sen. Warren, and myself — do I think we would be standing on that [debate] stage if we had the experience he had? No, I don’t. Maybe we’re held to a different standard.”

Klobuchar’s comments touched a nerve among many pundits and campaign workers, who criticized her for blaming sexism for her low standing in the polls. 

Hill.TV host Saagar Enjeti, who represents the conservative point of view on a show he co-hosts with liberal pundit Krystal Ball, blasted Klobuchar (as well as Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris for similar remarks) for playing the “sexism card.” Enjeti said that Klobuchar’s argument is faulty, pointing to Warren’s status as a national frontrunner and the fact that Hillary Clinton was the party’s nominee in 2016 as evidence that Democratic voters are not inherently sexist.

“And you know what maybe Senator Klobuchar? Maybe Pete Buttigieg would be doing a lot worse in the polls if there was a story about him eating a salad with a comb and being one of the most verbally abusive bosses on Capitol Hill,” Enjeti said, referring to unflattering press coverage that the Minnesota senator received when she first announced. “Just a thought.”

He added: “I don’t know how many times I have to say it. If you have interesting ideas and you’re a good candidate, then you’re going to do pretty well in the primary. Amy Klobuchar is not doing well because voters don’t trust that she can either A) beat Donald Trump or B) doesn’t have a positive vision of the country that aligns with them in a way they would like to see. That’s it, that’s really all there is too it. Candidates and the media would do well to learn it too if they want to maintain credibility with their voters.”

For his part, Buttigieg acknowledged that sexism is a force in politics, but said he believes he’s risen in the polls “by having the right message, the right organization, reaching out to voters and convincing more and more of them to join this vision.”

But Kimberly Peeler-Allen, a visiting practitioner at the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University and co-founder of Higher Heights, an organization supporting black women in politics, appears to agree with at least part of Klobuchar’s comments on Buttigieg. Speaking to the Minneapolis Star-TribunePeeler-Allen noted that female mayors of cities that are similar in size to South Bend, particularly black female mayors, likely wouldn’t be taken seriously as a presidential candidate.

But she also said that Klobuchar’s comments were about more than Buttigieg.

“It is more of a callout of the electorate and the powerbrokers and media and how they’re covering people than on Mayor Pete himself,” she said.

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