“Rural Americans are more likely to be older, more likely to have less money and more likely to be uninsured,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) told me in a phone interview Tuesday. “One in five rural Americans is a person of color. Rates of child poverty are higher.” These are the factors that make Americans in the heartland particularly vulnerable to a surge in coronavirus cases as red-state governors prematurely announce they are opening their states. The uptick in cases in rural America now is as predictable as it is tragic. “That’s what we have been worried about from the beginning,” Klobuchar said. And to make matters worse, she noted, 14 (mostly deep-red) states have not expanded Medicaid.

The concerns about rural America that Klobuchar has been working on for years take center stage in the midst of a pandemic. “Child care has always a concern considered a women’s issue. Now more and more it is seen as an economic issue,” she said. Without someone to watch the kids, many parents cannot go back to work. “You’re seeing parents deliberately take two shifts,” she said, explaining that many parents must both work to watch the kids. Her child-care bill introduced with Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) last year may now attract greater interest. “It is critical to the economy,” she said.

“The way I look at the pandemic is that it is not separate from the future. It should be a light on disparities in the economy,” Klobuchar said. Child-care, broadband or rural health-care issues have simmered for years, but they are now major impediments to surviving the pandemic both physically and economically. “Broadband [availability] is so unfair,” she explained. “If you are a small farmer, you are working, but now you’re supposed to teach your kids. But you don’t have broadband.” In tribal lands, the problem is also acute. She recalls one instance in which one family got Internet service only to look outside and see other kids doing their homework on their lawn thanks to their Internet.

Many of these problems affect states with Republican senators, which is why she is convinced there will be bipartisan support for many of these issues. “We’re already hearing rumors that there will be a rural health-care piece in the House bill,” she said.

Klobuchar is also focused on voting by mail and on the U.S. Postal Service, which President Trump seems determined to privatize (the likely result of which would be diminished service and higher prices for rural Americans). Together with Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), she has introduced a bill to expand and secure voting by mail for states that do not already have it. In March, the senators wrote an op-ed for The Post making the case that absent federal action, “Americans might have to choose between casting a ballot and protecting their health. That’s wrong, and we must take swift action to address the problem.” Their bill would make it unnecessary for voters to stand in long lines and poll workers to risk their lives manning polling stations. “Our legislation will guarantee every voter a secure mail-in paper ballot and help states cover the cost of printing, self-sealing envelopes, ballot tracking and postage,” they wrote.

Trump has decided to make voting by mail a partisan issue, but following the debacle in Wisconsin where the GOP essentially forced voters to go to the polls in the primary and local elections (resulting in dozens of new coronavirus cases), Klobuchar thinks that “there will be a huge shift. You cannot deny people their ballot.” She is convinced that both the “obviousness” of the need for a safe voting mechanism and the realization that the burden imposed by some states to obtain an absentee ballot (including notaries, witnesses and other hurdles) will build consensus. Support for voting by mail is now overwhelming, including many Republican voters. The $400 million previously allocated for voting by mail is not sufficient, she argued. “Ideally we can fix this at the federal level,” she said. “The other way is to go state by state.” (Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb (R), for example, waived restrictions on voting by mail in his state. New HampshireNew York and Kentucky did as well, allowing anyone to request a ballot by mail in their primaries and in the November general election.)

Klobuchar, whose husband John was hospitalized with the coronavirus (and is thankfully now well enough to help clean out the basement, she noted), has long been known as a nuts-and-bolts legislator able to work on bipartisan issues. While the pandemic has taken a huge toll (personally and around the country), she seems determined not to let rural America be left out of stimulus bills and other reform measures. In an election year, Republicans might finally come around to fixing some critical issues in their own states. What a novel idea.