Another 2020 Democratic contender made a big announcement on Sunday, this time it's Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar entering the race and taking aim squarely at Silicon Valley.
Most Democratic contenders have entered the race attempting to outflank one another from the left on big progressive ideals like universal health care and criminal justice reform, but Klobuchar, a third-term senator, is sidestepping that progressive fight to carve out a space on consumer protection.
“We need to put some digital rules into law when it comes to people’s privacy. For too long the big tech companies have been telling you ‘Don’t worry! We’ve got your back!’ while your identities are being stolen and your data is mined,” she said during her launch on Sunday. “Our laws need to be as sophisticated as the people who are breaking them.”
Klobuchar has made the oversight of big tech one of her banner issues in Congress. “The digital revolution isn’t just coming, it’s here,” she said.
She’s scrutinized Facebook, Google, and Twitter as they’ve been forced to explain their policies on privacy and political advertising. She wants to make it harder for big companies to buy or merge with smaller companies. And while other Democrats have worked on these issues, too — including Sens. Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, and Cory Booker — Klobuchar has introduced or cosponsored nearly twice as many bills on these subjects in the past few years than any other Democrat currently in the race (or likely to get in).
Conversations with more than a dozen members of Congress, current and former agency officials, tech industry insiders, and antitrust experts showed that she’s considered an expert in tech policy and a pragmatist by even her political and policy adversaries, who see her as a pragmatist.
“She not only has a deep background on facts and figures, she’s thought deeply about the issues,” says Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA), one of her co-sponsors on a data privacy bill. “She has a unique ability to get down into the weeds but also be able to look at an issue from 30,000 feet.”
Experts in relevant agencies respect her, too. “Among her colleagues, I think she is one of the most impressive measured by her extensive study of these topics,” said Bill Kovacic, the Republican former chair of the Federal Trade Commission, who praised Klobuchar’s positioning on and understanding of antitrust and privacy. “She’s made an investment that really stands out, building a base of knowledge that is formidable.”
And even those in the tech industry grudgingly acknowledge she knows what she’s talking about. “What I would say about her is that it’s the kind of office that you want to deal with,” said one tech industry source. “I don’t mean that in the sense that we always get what we want. You want somebody who’s thorough and fair-minded and deliberate.”
The question is whether her signature issue is one that will capture the attention (and the votes) of Democratic primary-goers. A knock on Klobuchar is that she’s the “senator of small things,” a practical lawmaker who works on consumer issues like toy safety or airline ticket price transparency. But while these are often seen as small potatoes, her latest forays go after some of the biggest corporations in America.
Arguably, Klobuchar’s biggest victory came in the wake of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
She introduced the Honest Ads Act alongside Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), a bill that would force platforms like Facebook to disclose the purchaser of an advertisement, as is required on television for political ads.
Frankly, the Dems are going to have three major balance challenges to overcome, the Israel BDS movement vs the Aipac Lobby, privacy issues vs Big Tech, and campaign finance reform vs. having cash on hand to beat Trump. They have the third well in hand as they showed in 2018's midterms, but the other two are going to be a major issue.
Klobuchar is definitely leading on the second issue., but she has a serious problem with the first, so far making her the only declared Democratic 2020 candidate to vote with nearly all Senate Republicans (except for Rand Paul!) who want to criminalize boycotting Israel.
We'll see if it's enough, but this is a decidedly mixed start to Klobuchar's already long shot campaign at best.