By Brady Averill

WASHINGTON - Three weeks into her new job in the U.S. Senate, Amy Klobuchar found herself calling Sen. Patrick Leahy -- a 30-year veteran -- to talk about budget legislation. "'What's wrong with this picture?'" Leahy asked, teasing her about the great gap in their tenures on Capitol Hill. Klobuchar was just doing her job as one of the new deputy whips -- helping count votes, discussing bills with colleagues and relaying senators' comments to leadership. "He seemed to accept it," she said later with a smile.

But it was an example of how Minnesota's new Democrat in the Senate has moved quickly behind the scenes to make herself known.

As Klobuchar approaches her 100th day in the Senate this week, observers have said she's already carved out an identity as a fast-moving legislator who has the potential to become a party leader. She traveled to Iraq after two months on the job and has helped take the lead with her freshman colleagues on Senate ethics legislation. She's among 12 deputy whips, but one of only two with no prior experience in Congress.

Her predecessor, Mark Dayton, says she's been faster off the mark than he was. Her whip position and the trip to Iraq suggest that she hit the ground running and show that she's established herself as "one of the up and coming leaders in the Senate," Dayton said.

"There's no time to lose," he said.

Last month, Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics, went so far as to include Klobuchar on a list on his website of possible vice presidential nominees. Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty was among the names of possible Republican contenders.

That seems unlikely for Klobuchar, given her lack of experience, said Kathryn Pearson, an expert on Congress at the University of Minnesota.