What happened in the final days of Amy Klobuchar's campaign
Posted March 3, 2020 11:00 a.m. EST
CNN — On Monday night, the rally crowd started chanting Amy Klobuchar's name.
"Amy! Amy! Amy!"
It was a bittersweet moment for the Minnesota senator, though -- for the rally was for Joe Biden, and the crowd was saying her name after she ended her own bid for the presidency and endorsed her formal rival.
It was only a few steps to get to the center of that stage, but the journey to this moment, accelerated in the hours before it took place, began weeks ago.
Senior aides told CNN after her sixth-place finish in the Nevada caucuses, Klobuchar began thinking about ending her own campaign to consolidate support around another candidate. Who that candidate would be did not become clear until a week later, when Biden resoundingly won South Carolina's primary.
Klobuchar, for her part, again notched a sixth-place finish in the Palmetto State.
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Publicly, though, Klobuchar showed little sign of pulling out. After her disappointing finish in Nevada, she declared at her South Carolina primary watch party, "We have exceeded expectations. A lot of people didn't even think I would still be standing at this point."
The Minnesota senator had a surprise third-place finish in New Hampshire to thank, where a strong debate performance led to her surging at the polls. But she proved unable to replicate that in the states that followed.
In the weeks leading up to the end of her bid, Klobuchar's campaign continued to build out its Super Tuesday infrastructure, hiring staff in Colorado and North Carolina. Her campaign poured $4.7 million into advertisements, topped only by the Michael Bloomberg, Bernie Sanders and Tom Steyer campaigns (Steyer also ended his bid after a disappointing finish in South Carolina).
The campaign also said it was hiring staff in March 10 primary states.
But among Klobuchar's most senior advisers, the exit plan loomed.
Serious conversations with staff about how she would actually end the campaign did not begin until Sunday morning, a Klobuchar adviser told CNN, when Klobuchar first had a conversation with her campaign manager and longtime aide, Justin Buoen, about the prospect of ending the run.
Those conversation continued throughout Sunday and grew to include other top aides.
What aides would not elaborate on is the impact that former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg's withdrawal from the primary race Sunday night had on Klobuchar's timing.
As Buttigieg delivered his exit speech in South Bend, leaning heavily on party unity, a chaotic scene was unfolding inside a high school gym in St. Louis Park, Minnesota. Protesters had taken over the stage where Klobuchar was set to hold a rally.
Family members of Myon Burrell -- a Minnesota teenager who was sentenced to life in prison under then-Hennepin County Attorney Klobuchar for murder -- along with protesters affiliated with the Racial Justice Network, Minneapolis NAACP and others filled the stage, chanting "Free Myon" and "Black Lives Matter."
The image was striking. At one point, Klobuchar supporters holding "Amy for America" signs stood on chairs directly across from stage shouting "Amy, Amy," to shout down the protesters, who responded with their own chants.
After a brief pause, a majority of the crowd joined in the effort to drown out the sound of the protesters. It briefly worked, but eventually, the Klobuchar campaign announced the rally was canceled. The campaign says the protesters had rejected a meeting with Klobuchar.
A chaotic morning in Utah
After that disastrous night for the Klobuchar campaign, the early morning rally in Salt Lake City, Utah, moved forward as scheduled.
But once Klobuchar stepped on stage, the mood stood in stark contrast to her rallies just a day earlier. The senator, known for delivering her campaign stump speech with gusto -- driven by her hardcore hitting-the-pavement, no-days-off energy -- appeared to go through the motions. She remarked on the gravity of the moment, the day before Super Tuesday.
"The sun is shining and you guys are at a rally at 8:30, this is what it's like on Super Tuesday when you got a lot of places to go." Both she and the crowd of roughly 100 people seemed almost solemn. She talked about her place in the popular vote getting totals: She was once third overall, but had now dropped to fifth -- a decline that could be felt in her voice.
She ended her stump by asking the audience for help.
"We want a president for all of America, not just some of America," she said.
Klobuchar then told the crowd she had to hit the road, skipping her typical photo line.
She placed the mic down, grabbed a piece of paper off a stool onstage and walked off with a last wave goodbye.
As the crowd spilled out, the reporters embedded with her, flying on a separate charter, stayed at the venue. More than 20 minutes after Klobuchar left the stage, reporters began to worry, as the senator had another event in Denver just a few hours after the Salt Lake City rally ended. In order to make the rally, Klobuchar and the embeds needed to head to the private airport terminal.
As the clock kept ticking, reporters questioned staff, as the campaign provides transportation. They didn't get an answer. A reporter tweeted that Klobuchar canceled a morning radio hit in California's Bay Area -- just as Buttigieg had done the day before he dropped out.
After 40 minutes, the concert hall where the Utah rally had been held flipped off the lights, leaving reporters in the dark. Campaign aides, a typically talkative bunch, went dark themselves and didn't return texts or calls.
Breaking the news
As the reporters stood in the dark, Klobuchar held an all-staff call. She had looked at the math and the numbers were clear, an aide told CNN.
Multiple staffers described the 10-minute call as gratifying for the team, a group of young campaign workers that operated on a shoestring budget and often did more than one job at once.
"I've been proud of you guys every step of the way. I've been so proud that this is a campaign where people have been happy," Klobuchar told her staff.
"I've been so proud that we literally almost all stuck together from the very beginning. And that is a tribute to you."
Klobuchar, who early in her campaign faced reports that she mistreated her Senate staff, ended her presidential campaign with many of the staffers who began it with her.
While the timing may have surprised some staffers, it was what she said next that was even more startling.
"I keep trying to think of what is best for our country right now. So I decided that I'm going to be endorsing Vice President Biden today," she told them.
Klobuchar saw her decision to back Biden now as the best thing she could do to unify the party, an adviser said, but there was acknowledgement inside the Klobuchar campaign that a loss in the Minnesota primary on Tuesday would embarrass the senator.
Campaign aides told CNN that their internal numbers had her ahead of Bernie Sanders in the state, but she knew the Vermont senator had significant support.
And even if she won Minnesota, the adviser said, she knew there was a bigger picture delegate math at stake.
"So, ahead of a major voting day," the adviser said, "she thought it was best to get behind Biden. And not just suspend her campaign but endorse."
After the news was shared with Klobuchar's staff, an aide began returning texts to members of the press an hour after Klobuchar left the stage in Utah.
"You ready?" the text read.
The message was plain, leaving no doubt the campaign was over.
"The Klobuchar campaign confirms the Senator is flying to Dallas to join Vice President Biden at his rally tonight where she will suspend her campaign and endorse the Vice President," it read.
Klobuchar aides characterized the withdrawal and endorsement as "a moment of unity."
"She wanted to unite the party before Super Tuesday and put our money where our mouth is with unity and endorsing," a senior aide said. The aide notably did not discuss Klobuchar's election prospects outside of Minnesota on Super Tuesday.
In Denver, where Klobuchar was scheduled to rally next, the construction of her rally stage halted. Supporters who had not seen the news over Twitter expressed dismay and sadness as staffers explained Klobuchar was leaving the race.
"I just voted for her this morning," said a woman, dejected as she was told the news. And as a staffer handed out Klobuchar T-shirts, now relics of a bygone campaign, another woman shouted.