Buttigieg Faces Tough Battle to Repeat Iowa Feat in Later States

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(Bloomberg) -- The once-improbable path for Pete Buttigieg to in the Democratic presidential nomination hinged on a strong performance in the Iowa caucuses.

Now, with a possible first- or second-place finish, the looming question is whether that will be enough to propel him into contention in more racially diverse states.

Buttigieg, who is in a virtual tie with Senator Bernie Sanders in incomplete results in Iowa, appears to have decisively defeated former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Amy Klobuchar, the two other top moderates who competed in the caucuses. But he still has a long way to go prove a 38-year-old gay ex-mayor can claim the mantle as the clear alternative to the progressive wing of the party.

Moving forward, his campaign is hoping to replicate its organizing success, particularly in Nevada, where they have a large organization staffed by caucus experts.

Pitching himself as a candidate who can unite the country by appealing to liberals, moderates and disaffected Republicans, Buttigieg called his Iowa success an “astonishing victory.”

“This validates the idea that we can have a message, the same message, connect in urban in rural and suburban communities, that we can reach out to Democrats and Republicans and independents and even to some future former Republicans, ready to bring change to this country,” he said in Laconia, New Hampshire, on Tuesday.

Buttigieg barnstormed New Hampshire on Tuesday, holding five town halls as he seeks to capitalize on the momentum from Iowa. He is polling third in New Hampshire, an overwhelmingly white state with a significant number of independents, and he has been angling to win them over. Sanders is still the favorite to win the state he trounced Hillary Clinton in during the 2016 primary, but another strong finish for Buttigieg could further burnish his electability argument.

But the biggest test of that argument will come later this month in Nevada, with its sizable Latino population, and South Carolina, where more than 60% of the Democrats are African American.

Buttigieg’s struggles with voters of color are well-documented. His advisers have long argued that once he showed he could win, those voters would come around to him, and they say a victory in New Hampshire would only further that. Even so, Buttigieg has a lot of ground to make up, as he is polling in single digits in both South Carolina and Nevada.

The campaign has invested heavily in Nevada even though it did not staff up until much later than rivals. With more than 65 staff on the ground and 12 offices across the state, it now boasts one of the largest organizations. The campaign also recently dispatched its national constituency director and national veterans’ outreach director to the state.

The campaign also hired Travis Brock as its national caucus director. Brock, the Nevada Democratic Party’s executive director in 2008, has extensive experience with caucus rules and Nevada politics. The campaign deployed him to Iowa for a few weeks where he crisscrossed the state and held caucus trainings with supporters and precinct captains.

Multiple Democrats in Iowa said they were impressed with Brock’s work, and the results there validated the campaign’s strategy.

Buttigieg will also start to reap of the financial benefits of having a Super PAC behind him. VoteVets, which supports Democratic veterans running for political office, endorsed Buttigieg in December, and it bought a six-figure ad buy in support of him in New Hampshire. Buttigieg was a Navy intelligence officer who served in Afghanistan.

Still, Buttigieg has a difficult path ahead. He has dismal support from black voters and he still has to convince people across the country that he has the experience to govern the country and defeat President Donald Trump, which many voters cite as their most pressing concern in choosing a nominee. But after New Hampshire, there is less opportunity to make his case in intimate settings, as he had in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Biden’s fourth place Iowa finish will dent his electability argument, but he remains formidable among black voters, who overwhelmingly favor him. A recent poll from the Washington Post found 48% of black voters favored Biden. Only 2% picked Buttigieg.

Shockwave Candidate?

“There’s going to have to be a real political earthquake among African Americans for their hearts and minds to change,” said Antjuan Seawright, a South Carolina-based Democratic strategist who is unaffiliated. “To this point, they’ve proven otherwise. But I also know when you have a shockwave candidate like Mayor Pete, no circumstance is off the table. There’s always a possibility that the political winds could blow his way.”

If he makes it to Super Tuesday, Buttigieg will also have to contend with former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has already spent $300 million in advertising alone and is planning to double his staff to more than 2,000 nationwide. Bloomberg, who is running as a moderate, skipped the first four early states and has blanketed the air waves in the states that vote on March 3.

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

For the next six days, though, the Buttigieg campaign is laser-focused on New Hampshire, and on Tuesday, the candidate seemed to get choked up by the historic nature of his Iowa performance.

“It validates for a kid, somewhere in a community, wondering if he belongs, or she belongs, or they belong, in their own family, that if you believe in yourself and your country, there’s a lot backing up that belief,” he said.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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