Amy Klobuchar campaigns in Utah as ‘true tribute to grit’ — then drops out hours later

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Amy Klobuchar speaks at a campaign rally in Salt Lake City on Monday March 2, 2020. She dropped out of the presidential race shortly after the event.

Less than two hours after speaking at a small Utah rally where she described herself as “the alternative” to President Donald Trump, Democratic hopeful Amy Klobuchar ended her run for president and threw her support behind former Vice President Joe Biden.

Her unexpected dropout came in the middle of the moderate Minnesota senator’s booked lineup of campaign visits across the country before Super Tuesday — which started early Monday morning in Salt Lake City. She had kicked off the event by noting that her staying in the race was a “true tribute to grit.”

“A lot of people predicted I wouldn’t make it through my campaign announcement,” she said. “Then they predicted I wouldn’t make it through the summer. Then they predicted I wouldn’t make it on the debate stage. But I did.”

The audience of about 200 people below her cheered. They didn’t quite fill the event space at The Depot concert venue downtown, but those who came were strongly supportive, clapping and whistling throughout her remarks. “We love you Amy,” one woman shouted as the senator took the stage.

[Read more: Did you vote early for a candidate who dropped out? Sorry, no do-overs]

Still, others acknowledged before her 40-minute address that they had hoped more people would show up — even in a red state like Utah. And they were worried, despite how much they like her, what that might suggest about Klobuchar’s popularity in the race overall.

“We don’t understand why she’s not getting more traction,” said Salt Lake City resident Cathy Campbell. “She makes a lot of sense.” Added Jeff Alley, of Syracuse: “Right now, it’s not looking so good.”

Klobuchar’s rally in Salt Lake City was scheduled shortly before front-runner Bernie Sanders also spoke in Salt Lake City at the State Fairpark. He’s been leagues ahead in the polls for Utah’s Democratic primary with 28% to Klobuchar’s 4%.

But those looking for an indication that Klobuchar was going to leave the race likely wouldn’t have found it in her address. She came onto the stage with energy and a handful of jabs against Trump and her competition.

“Our country can’t handle four more years of a president who thinks he’s above the law,” she said.

And on Sanders, she suggested that his campaign was full of “pipe dreams” where she had concrete plans.

Throughout her speech, Klobuchar painted herself as the best candidate who could beat Trump, able to get votes from both parties but especially those in deeply red states, like Utah, who voted for him and are now disillusioned. She promised to “bring decency back to the White House.”

“The heart of America is bigger than the heart of the guy in the White House,” she shouted as red, white and blue lights shone down on her and she was surrounded by “Amy for America” posters.

Klobuchar said she could work across party lines as a moderate — and pointed to already doing so in the Senate, including with two Utah senators over the years. She called out Sen. Mitt Romney for working with her on climate change and appreciated him voting to remove Trump from office after the president’s impeachment trial.

And she joked about former Sen. Orrin Hatch, who along with her, was voted “the least likely to get into a scandal” in Washington by a national magazine. “I assume that included with each other,” she added, noting they’d worked together several times. “We were a very odd couple, I will admit that.”

Meanwhile, Trump’s 2020 presidential campaign had released a statement saying that her campaign was “on life support” and residents here “would not be wooed by her last minute attempts to win their support.”

After kicking off her 9 a.m. rally in Salt Lake City, the senator had planned to speak in Colorado and Oklahoma as part of a busy campaign blitz covering 10 states before Super Tuesday.

It was originally supposed to be 11. Klobuchar ended up canceling an event in her home state of Minnesota on Sunday night after protesters stormed the stage. They were criticizing Klobuchar, a former prosecutor, for her role in the controversial murder conviction of a black teenager, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune. She made no mention of it Monday.

During her rally in Utah, she said that while the Democrats running for president disagree on some issues, what unites them “is stronger than what divides us.” And any of them would be better in office than Trump has been, she said.

He promised to lower the price of prescription drugs and hasn’t, she said. He pledged to address roads and transportation but never looked at those issues, she said. He committed to making college more affordable and “has done the opposite," she said.

“There are promises that haven’t been kept,” Klobuchar said. “What really bugs me about this guy is that he lessens that heart [of America]. He reduces the way that people feel. He’s always in for the mean tweet.”

Utahns, she added, understand “civil discourse and that need for decency” and should vote against him.

Klobuchar had campaigned on lowering the cost of health care premiums, creating more affordable housing, welcoming immigrants and making grants more available to college students. She had faced some pushback for how she treated staff.

This is the first year that Utah has been part of the early Super Tuesday primary, one of 14 states holding elections on the same day. And the move has brought fierce debate and a long line of candidates here in recent weeks.

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has visited the state twice. Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., held a packed rally with 4,500 supporters — much larger than Klobuchar’s, though he has also since dropped out along with billionaire Tom Steyer. And Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard campaigned in Utah earlier this month.

Earlier in the cycle, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren campaigned here. Biden also visited for a fundraiser. And former GOP Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld — who is challenging President Donald Trump for the Republican nomination — came last month.

Utahns will choose 29 Democratic delegates on Tuesday. Candidates must win at least 15% of the vote to win a delegate here. About a third of all Democratic delegates will be chosen Tuesday as 14 states hold primaries.