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Political News

Buttigieg Gains Traction In Iowa As Democrats Vie For Support

Clay Masters
Iowa Public Radio
South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg speaks at Waverly-Shell Rock Senior High School in Waverly, Iowa on Sunday November 3, 2019.

With less than three months until the Iowa caucuses, Democrats running for president are spending a lot more time campaigning in the state that leads the nominating process. That includes South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg who just finished an Iowa campaign tour on Monday. He drew sharp contrasts to Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren who has been rising in the state’s polls.

A band played while hundreds gathered in the rain at a rally for Pete Buttigieg last Friday in Des Moines.  They were there ahead of the Liberty and Justice Celebration… a marquee fundraiser for the Iowa Democratic Party where candidates are looking for a breakout moment.

Joe Schmidt from West Des Moines was in the crowd and says he’s leaning towards supporting Buttigieg in the Iowa caucuses.

“He’s not going too far in one direction and he’s trying to bring people together,” Schmidt, who recently changed his party registration from Republican to Democrat, said.

Like Buttigieg a lot of the candidates held their own rallies ahead of the event.

Vicki Stout from suburban Des Moines was at Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders’s rally.

Stout says she’s trying to decide between Sanders, Warren and Buttigieg.

She acknowledges the mayor is a different kind of candidate but he represents the next generation of Democrats.

“I would like somebody that could bring our country’s people together rather than have the current divisiveness we have with our current administration,” Stout said.

This fundraiser helped propel then-Senator Barack Obama to win the Iowa caucuses in 2008. All of the candidates wanted to have a similar performance.  Buttigieg was the first of thirteen presidential candidates to speak.

“I also will not tire from the effort to include everyone in this future we are trying to build. Progressives, moderates and Republicans of conscious who are ready for a change,” Buttigieg said from the stage. “The time has come!”

A New York Times poll out that same day showed Buttigieg surging to third place in Iowa – passing Joe Biden and narrowly trailing Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.  The poll showed Iowa Democrats prefer a nominee who supports improving the health insurance system rather than replacing it.  It also found most Democrats favor someone who would work with Republicans.

The next day, Warren spoke just before Buttigieg at a fundraiser in Cedar Rapids. She presented herself as a bold progressive fighter.

“We’re not going to do this by kind of nibbling around the edges,” Warren said from the stage at Congresswoman Abby Finkenauer’s Fish Fry. “We’re not going to do it by running some kind of vague campaign with a bunch of slogans that have been approved by a bunch of consultants not to offend anyone.”

That speaks to college student Maddi Shinall who will be participating in her first Iowa caucus in February.  She and her dad didn’t stick around for Buttigieg.

“I feel like Democrats win elections when they have a clear vision of America and Elizabeth Warren paints that vision of America so clearly and she’s not saying what we can’t do which I feel like some candidates have said,” Shinall said. “She’s saying like this is what we can do and this is what the vision is and this is what the goal is.”

This was the second trip Buttigieg invited the press onto his campaign bus for a several day rolling on-the-record conversation. Buttigieg was asked to comment on whether Warren could stop fighting in Washington if she were president.

“I think when you become president you have to figure out a way to bring people together,” Buttigieg said. “The case I’m making in my campaign is I’m best positioned to do it.”

Buttigieg held several town-halls in Iowa counties that voted for President Obama in the 2008 and 2012 general elections and then voted for President Trump in 2016.  He drew sizable crowds in small towns like Decorah and Charles City.  After one in Waverly, Sonya Carlson said she was inspired by what Buttigieg had to say about working together as a country regardless of your beliefs.

“We’re moved to tears a little bit because, so our 8-year-old really wanted to come today the most – he thinks Mayor Pete is pretty cool,” Carlson said. “He convinced us all today I think he could be the right person to get us toward some community-minded change and movement.”

But the Democratic contenders are all on the hunt for support. Bernie Sanders is looking to gain from his endorsement from Congresswoman Alexandria Ocazio-Cortez. She’s going to join him for rallies here this weekend.

Former Vice President Joe Biden is continuing to campaign here too. He presents himself as the best bet for beating President Trump in 2020 and a set of new polls from the New York Times and Siena College supports that.  For now, Warren and Buttigieg are both enjoying a surge they hope they can ride to a victory on a cold night in early February.