On a recent April morning, Amy Klobuchar stood in her dining room flipping through a scrapbook of her father’s newspaper articles. She was on a brief break from the campaign trail, trading hard-hat tours of ethanol plants in Iowa and a uniform of nondescript blazers from New Hampshire town halls for a quiet morning at home in a comfy pastel fleece.

“I just remember being horrified by this headline,” she told me, pointing to a yellowing page that featured portraits of her, a recent high school graduate with hair down to her turtleneck, and her father, who wore long sideburns and a cardigan. The article detailed a bicycle trip the father-daughter duo had undertaken and was titled:

“Jim Klobuchar and daughter encounter new relationship.”

Amy, 58, shook her head and laughed, her short bob swaying side to side.

It’s been something of a theme over the course of Amy’s life; both an evolving kinship with her father and being mortified by things he put in the paper. For decades, Jim Klobuchar was a daily columnist for the Minneapolis Star Tribune; part sportswriter, raconteur-adventurer, voice for the voiceless, and needler of the ruling class. Little in his life, or Amy’s, was off limits.

Once, Jim had mentioned in a sports column that Amy had correctly diagnosed a football injury as being “groin”-related. That got her teased at school. There was the story Jim wrote about his divorce from Amy’s mother, Rose, the day after the split became official in 1976 (“My mom never liked that,” said Amy, whose mom died in 2010). And then, in 1993, there was the front-page article Jim had to write about his own arrest for drunken driving.

Amy was a young lawyer by then, and at one of Jim’s hearings to determine his sentence, she took the stand. But she wasn’t there to defend him.

“It was a prosecution,” Jim wrote later.

Amy Klobuchar shows a 1981 news clipping from the bike trip she took with her journalist father at 18 from the Twin Cities to the Grand Tetons in Wyoming. (Photo for The Washington Post by Caroline Yang)
Amy Klobuchar shows a 1981 news clipping from the bike trip she took with her journalist father at 18 from the Twin Cities to the Grand Tetons in Wyoming. (Photo for The Washington Post by Caroline Yang)

Amy had plenty of material to work with. There was the time they drove to a bar after a Vikings game – he got tanked while she drank a 7-Up. The time he swerved his car into a ditch with her in the passenger seat. All the times he pretended the bottle he kept in his trunk was mouthwash, and the times Amy and her younger sister, Beth, sat in the room above the garage, staring out the window and waiting for him to come home.

“I reminded him of the birthdays he missed,” Amy recalled now. She told him, “I don’t know if you remember,” but there was one in particular when he’d come home, smelling awful and without a present.

Jim remembered.

There are different ways to deal with a destructive personality. Beth, who struggled with her own addictions, dropped out of high school and, for a time, cut her father out of her life. His colleagues at the paper either didn’t notice his drinking, or pretended not to. Amy took a third option. At the hearing, she looked him in the eye and delivered a clear message.

“I told him I loved him,” Amy said. “I would always love him. But he needed to get this help.”

It took a certain kind of toughness to confront her father in court, and 26 years later, Sen. Amy Klobuchar is pitching herself to America as a teller of hard truths. She has charted a path to the White House that goes through (not around) certain hard-luck swaths of Middle America now known as Trump Country but which used to be Democrat Country, and which still is Klobuchar Country. Places like the 8th Congressional District in Northern Minnesota, which saw one of the biggest swings in the country, from President Barack Obama to President Donald Trump, but which continued to support Amy, as well.

It was an inheritance, politically speaking. Jim Klobuchar was from those parts, forged in the Iron Range, a region of miners, hard drinkers and isolated communities tied together by union organizing. He built his career as a champion of the forgotten workers, the likes of which he knew growing up. He remembered them in his writing, even as he forgot his daughter’s birthday.

That wasn’t all Amy inherited from her father. Friends of Jim’s say they see a lot of him in Amy: the populist streak, the humor, and yes, the reports of a fierce temper. Intentionally or not, being the daughter of an alcoholic has become central to Amy’s presidential run. She brought him up during her star turn at a Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court confirmation hearing, where she interrogated the beer-loving judge while appearing deeply unimpressed with his anger and self-pity. And last week, she announced a plan to combat addiction, making it an early campaign priority.

There are Democrats who believe winning in 2020 will have more to do with exciting turnout in cities than recovering voters from the industrial Midwest, and that Klobuchar’s campaign has more to do with a fading memory of America than its future.

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