"If you're tired of the noise and the nonsense and the extremes in our politics, you have a home with me"

When Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar announced her 2020 presidential campaign along the snowy banks of the Mississippi River last February, she spoke of unity.

Months later, she returned to that theme in an interview with PEOPLE.

“We have to cross the river of our divides,” the 59-year-old lawmaker says. “And so that was my point about how if you’re tired of the noise and the nonsense and the extremes in our politics, you have a home with me.”

The three-term senator and former prosecutor is one of two leading women still running for the 2020 Democratic nomination, along with Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren. A fellow senate colleague, California’s Kamala Harris, left the race late last year after New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand.

Harris, Klobuchar and Warren, who all appeared on the debate stage as part of a historic number of women vying for the presidency, were named among PEOPLE’s Women Changing the World in 2019.

Klobuchar’s candidacy has its challenges: She has not polled in the highest tier of candidates, next to Sens. Warren and Bernie Sanders and former Vice President Joe Biden. And she knows that, last year, she did not have their name recognition.

But she has a message: As a highly popular politician in her Midwestern state, she could build a coalition to defeat President Donald Trump — and she had a track record of bipartisan accomplishments.

Speaking with PEOPLE, Klobuchar credits her success to her understanding of others, saying she makes an effort to visit voters in small towns and help bridge gaps between them. Standing at the Mississippi last year, she made this argument literal: The river divides the country from north to south.

“I don’t want to be the president for half of America,” she said then. “I want to be the president for all of America.”

“That’s about changing the tone,” Klobuchar tells PEOPLE. “But the policy that I’m proudest of is just being the first one to come out with mental health and addiction plans. And a lot of that’s rooted in my own experience.”

Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Amy Klobuchar
Sen. Amy Klobuchar in Des Moines, Iowa, in September.
| Credit: Scott Olson/Getty

Klobuchar’s entry into politics was personal: After giving birth to daughter Abigail, who couldn’t swallow and was being treated in intensive care, Klobuchar was kicked out of the hospital 24 hours later. That led her to start advocating for a bill that guaranteed longer hospital stays for new mothers. She fought for the bill in front of the Minnesota legislature and eventually helped increase hospital stays for new moms to 48 hours.

“When they tried to delay the implementation date, I brought six pregnant friends to the conference committee,” Klobuchar says, recounting her origin story with ease and a little humor. “They outnumbered the lobbyists two-to-one, and when the legislators asked when should it take effect, all the pregnant moms raised their hands. They actually moved up the date to when the governor signed it as opposed to have it go later.”

President Bill Clinton signed a similar bill into federal law in 1996.

“For me it was actually getting something done,“ she says now, “and knowing I had the ability to do that and that I wanted to keep doing that.”

Before she became a senator, Klobuchar served as the Hennepin County prosecutor for nearly 10 years. Her politics stem from personal experiences, she says, including her push for increased mental health treatment.

There’s never been a president who has made the issue a priority the way she would, she tells PEOPLE, pointing out that increasing accessibility and affordability for mental health treatment is one of her main priorities.

She tells this story: Her father, Jim, struggled with alcoholism throughout her life and had three citations for driving while impaired, including one soon before his daughter’s wedding in 1993.

“He had to choose between jail and treatment and he chose treatment,” Klobuchar says. “In his words, he was pursued by grace. And I believe everyone has that right. Whether they’re struggling, with one in five Americans struggling with mental health at some point in their life, or addiction — or one in two people know someone or someone in their family. We just haven’t had enough on that.”

Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar Announces Candidacy For President
Sen. Amy Klobuchar at her presidential campaign kick-off
| Credit: Stephen Maturen/Getty

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Klobuchar is aware, too, of her place in history — what new place she is carving out, as a female politician, and the women who’ve come before her.

She shares anecdotes of young girls asking her to sign things and talk politics and her husband, John Bessler, campaigning for her instead of the other way around

“We have women governors from both parties and we have more women in Congress, and it just makes people more ready for a woman running for this job,” she says. “I truly believe Hillary [ Clinton] will go down in history of breaking that ceiling even though she didn’t win. I always think that she did break the glass ceiling because right after that was all these women just couldn’t stand it anymore. They either ran or they helped other women run, and it really was a sea of change.”

“That’s going to really shake things up,” Klobuchar says, “It means a clear sign that things are going to be different.”