Success in Iowa fires up Buttigieg campaign in NH
Pete Buttigieg faces the immediate challenge of capitalizing on his strong Iowa showing in New Hampshire, a state his aides believe will be crucial for him to prove he is the most viable alternative to Bernie Sanders in the Democratic presidential primary.
While Buttigieg’s campaign privately acknowledges that overtaking Sanders in New Hampshire will be difficult, their aim in Tuesday’s first-inthe-nation primary is twofold: track close enough to the progressive Vermont senator to demonstrate durability and finish ahead of the moderate Joe Biden to further undercut his core premise of electability.
Speaking on a call to supporters Wednesday evening, Buttigieg dubbed himself the “momentum candidate in this race,” but warned, “We’ve got to remember we’re still the underdog in this effort.”
A strong finish for Buttigieg in New Hampshire, where the white, collegeeducated voters that have backed him make up a significant slice of the Democratic electorate, is paramount because the states voting in the following weeks present demographic challenges that he hasn’t yet been able to crack.
In Nevada, where at least 20 percent of the caucus electorate is expected to be Hispanic, and South Carolina, where African-Americans make up 60 percent of the primary electorate, Buttigieg has been consistently stuck in single digits in the polls. Biden and Sanders are currently the top two polling candidates in both states.
Of course, Buttigieg is betting that continued success can change all of that – which means surprising again in New Hampshire’s primary on Feb. 11.
“I would call New Hampshire urgent for the Buttigieg team. I think it’s urgent because he’s the one coming out of Iowa with the most momentum. Obviously there’s lower expectations for him in the South and in Nevada,” said Sean Downey, who advised Cory Booker’s New Hampshire campaign. “I just don’t see anyone catching Bernie . ... If I’m them, I’m certainly zoning in on a secondplace finish there.”
Sanders has maintained a consistent single-digit polling lead in New Hampshire for weeks, but Buttigieg has shown signs of climbing into contention in the days following the Iowa caucuses, the kick-off nominating contest that remains unresolved due a host of reporting and technological snafus.
Despite the controversy hanging over Iowa’s results, the Buttigieg campaign believes the former South Bend, Ind. mayor still benefited from the splash of media coverage that has portrayed him as a victor, if not the official winner. On Thursday alone, he appeared on “The View,” was featured in a sit-down interview with MSNBC’s Stephanie Ruhle, where she described him as “the frontrunner,” and taped a segment with Stephen Colbert.
And there’s data to demonstrate there might be a Buttigieg bump developing.
A Boston Globe/Suffolk University survey on Thursday found Buttigieg pulling into a statistical dead heat with Sanders, whose lead was cut to just a single point, 24 percent to 23 percent. Biden had fallen to fourth place at 11 percent. A Monmouth University poll of New Hampshire also taken this week showed Buttigieg within striking distance of Sanders. Sanders lead was just 4 points, 24 percent to 20 percent. Biden lagged in third place at 17 percent.
A Buttigieg aide said even finishing five to six points behind Sanders would amount to a significant accomplishment, given Sanders’ dominance in the 2016 primary here and long history as a member of Congress from a neighboring state.
But most importantly, according to the aide, was beating Biden, Buttigieg’s main competitor for moderate voters. The former vice president began to take aim at the 38-yearold’s lack of experience on the trail this week.
“I’m counting on New Hampshire,” Biden said. “We’re going to come back.”
But Buttigieg’s campaign sees Biden’s electability advantage beginning to diminish among voters and even party leaders, due to his unsteady campaign appearances and often rambling answers to questions on the trail.
“The electability question answers itself,” said Rep. Annie Kuster of New Hampshire, who endorsed Buttigieg ahead of Iowa despite a long-standing relationship with Biden. “You look at the results in Iowa. New Hampshire is uniquely situated to demonstrate what a broad [Buttigieg] coalition will look like next November.”
On the Wednesday call with supporters, Buttigieg deputy campaign manager Hari Sevugan attempted to raise the urgency around New Hampshire, where the campaign was slower to invest compared to their opponents.
“We may have just won the Iowa caucuses, but that is not enough,” Sevugan said. “We need a surge of financial support right now. … We have to get to work over the next six days or we might be out of this thing.”
Even after a year-long national campaign, Buttigieg remains less known among likely New Hampshire primary voters than Sanders, Biden and Elizabeth Warren by almost 20 percentage points, according to internal Buttigieg campaign data.
After allocating fewer resources to New Hampshire advertising compared to Sanders, the Buttigieg campaign expects to be outspending their rival on television in the Boston media market by the end of the week. It’s a play to reach the trove of college-educated voters in southern New Hampshire’s Boston suburbs, including a swath of independents and Republicans who may be turned off by Sanders’ socialist views and choose to participate in the primary. A more aggressive digital ad campaign will also seek to match Sanders.
Still, this is essentially a home game for Sanders, who boasts 150 staff and 14,000 volunteers in the state. And almost every Democratic operative interviewed said they’d be surprised if he didn’t notch a repeat victory here, albeit by a much smaller margin than 2016.
“I know New Hampshire, more than any other early state … knows him,” said Jane Sanders, as she introduced her husband at an event in Derry. “And that I think’s a huge advantage for us.”
Sanders’ allies are optimistic about their candidate’s standing in the state, but are still cautious at setting expectations.
Renny Cushing, a state representative and campaign co-chair from Hampton who has known Sanders since he was the mayor of Burlington, said Sanders’ strength isn’t his familiarity, but his consistency on advocating for working people over decades.
“I’ve had a sense in recent weeks of a lot of people coming home to Bernie,” Cushing said. “They look around and they come back and say ya know, ‘Bernie’s been there.’ ”
Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., greets people during a campaign stop at the Merrimack American Legion in Merrimack, N.H. on Thursday.