Buttigieg Campaign Takes Swipes at Older Rivals Like Biden

(Bloomberg) -- Pete Buttigieg’s top campaign staff took veiled shots at Iowa front-runners Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden, reflecting the candidate’s argument that it’s time for a fresh start in Washington.

Speaking at a Bloomberg News reporter roundtable in Des Moines on Saturday, senior adviser Lis Smith argued that Sanders’ proposals were too polarizing while Biden was relying on traditional tactics that will fail.

“The idea that we are going to take on someone like Donald Trump with the old playbook by saying I understand the ways of Washington, I hung out with Strom Thurmond 20 years ago, that’s just not going to happen,” she said.

Smith was making an indirect reference to Biden’s frequent citation of his longstanding relationships with Washington insiders, including those with two segregationist senators, including Thurmond.

Still, Smith claimed that the campaign was not going negative in the final days before the Iowa caucuses.

“Donald Trump accused one of his opponent’s fathers of killing JFK. That is negative,” Smith said, referencing a conspiracy theory Trump floated about Texas Senator Ted Cruz in 2016 with no evidence. “We are drawing a contrast.”

Buttigieg Campaign Takes Swipes at Older Rivals Like Biden

The arguments echoed recent remarks by Buttigieg on the campaign trail, which have had sharper criticism of the former vice president and the Vermont senator, who are just ahead of him in the polls.

“You cannot defeat Donald Trump if you have policies that alienate half of the people across this country,” Smith said. “You cannot defeat Donald Trump by going back to the backslapping politics of the 1970s.”

In the RealClearPolitics average of Iowa polls, Buttigieg is currently in third place, with 15.8%, behind Sanders and Biden. Any finish lower than third would seriously damage his campaign.

Campaign Manager Mike Schmuhl turned Biden’s electability argument on its head, arguing that the safe choice in a primary isn’t always what it seems.

“Since World War II, our party’s nominated three vice presidents; they’ve all lost. The last two nominees who lost from our party were John Kerry and Hillary Clinton. That’s pretty establishment,” he said. “Our party goes for youthful, visionary, next-generation leaders: JFK, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama.”

Buttigieg has dropped in standing since a surge last fall, but the campaign argues that doesn’t account for its strength in grassroots organizing across Iowa.

A Harvard graduate and Rhodes scholar, he served as a naval intelligence officer in Afghanistan before being elected to two terms as mayor of South Bend, Indiana, a city of around 100,000 people.

Just three years past the minimum constitutional age to run for president, he has leaned into his lack of traditional political experience, saying that the country needs someone from outside Washington.

In a recent tweet, he argued that “we need a president whose vision was shaped by the American Heartland rather than the ineffective Washington politics we’ve come to know and expect.”

At the roundtable, Smith argued that Buttigieg’s time as mayor prepared him well for the presidency, arguing that his experience with “everything from filling potholes to responding to natural disasters” was far different from Trump’s past as a reality TV star and real estate developer.

“I would say that being a mayor is the most hand’s-on, direct form of government,” Smith said. “That is a central part of who Pete is, what makes him different.”

(Disclaimer: Michael Bloomberg is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination. He is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News).

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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