by Jane Brissett

Freshman U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar received an enthusiastic reception at the annual Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce dinner worthy of former Vice President Hubert Humphrey’s welcome at a state Democratic convention.

Nearly 1,200 members of the normally conservative business organization gave her two standing ovations — once before she spoke about her first months in office and another afterward.

DFLer Klobuchar, the first woman elected to represent Minnesota in the Senate, is “a senator in the tradition of Hubert Humphrey and Walter Mondale,” Chamber CEO David Ross said in his introduction.

The reception might have been a reflection of the Star Tribune Minnesota poll that showed a 61 percent approval rating, the highest of any Minnesota senator this decade. She even bested the late Sen. Paul Wellstone’s 59 percent in 2002.

She spoke with energy and passion about her job since she was sworn in Jan. 4, beginning with a tale about the first bill she ever had passed. It was legislation to rename the Duluth Federal Building for Judge Gerald Heaney of the 8th District Court of Appeals.

The new senator talked about her family piling into their Saturn to drive to Washington, D.C., for her new job and moving into a small apartment in Virginia so her 12-year-old daughter, Abigail, could attend public school. She laughed about her husband’s participation in a Senate spouses’ baby shower. She spoke mournfully about her daughter’s efforts to find samples of nature for a school assignment in their very urban neighborhood. She could find only a potted plant and a couple of dead mosquitoes.

But she also spoke about her work as a senator, helping set safety standards for toys imported from China, about working to pass a sweeping ethics reform bill, increasing the minimum wage and other bills she has worked for.

She spoke out against the Iraq war, but talked about her respect for the men and women who serve there. After returning from a trip to Iraq in March, she said, she called more than 50 mothers and spouses and heard their views of the situation.

“We’re not going to do the same thing we did in Vietnam,” she said. When troops come home they will receive the honor and respect they deserve, she added.

Klobuchar noted challenges in Minnesota, including the Interstate 35W bridge collapse in August. “A bridge in America just shouldn’t fall down,” she said.

“It is something that made the country step back and say, ‘What are our priorities?’ ” she asked.

As a member of the environment and public works subcommittee of the Senate Commerce Committee, she pledged to help improve the nation’s infrastructure.

And she noted the potica war in Hibbing, with two unnamed Hibbing bakeries vying to provide the Slovenian pastry for the senator’s Thursday morning coffee parties for visitors. Now, Klobuchar said, her office orders from both bakeries.