Buttigieg on defense as rivals aim to blunt his momentum
DOVER, N.H. >> Pete Buttigieg has been on defense all weekend as his Democratic presidential rivals attacked him on everything from his struggle to connect with black voters to accepting campaign contributions from large donors in an effort to blunt any momentum heading into Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders,
who essentially tied with Buttigieg in last week’s Iowa caucuses, blasted the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, for taking contributions from the very wealthy, suggesting Buttigieg won’t stand up to “Wall Street tycoons” or “the corporate elite.” Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren voiced similar criticism, telling ABC’s “This Week” that “the coalition of billionaires is not exactly what’s going to carry us over the top.” Former Vice President
Joe Biden told the same program that Buttigieg hasn’t been able to “unify the black community.”
The volley of criticism Sunday was fresh evidence that Buttigieg, who was virtually unknown in national politics a year ago, has become an early front-runner in the battle for the Democratic presidential nomination. The developments usher in a new phase of the campaign that will test how
Buttigieg responds to the pressure, especially as the contest moves to more racially diverse states where he has struggled to gain traction.
Buttigieg hit back at Biden, who on Saturday lamented comparisons between the former mayor and former President Barack Obama.
“Oh, come on, man,”
Biden told reporters. “This guy’s not a Barack Obama.”
“Well, he’s right, I’m not,” Buttigieg responded on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “And neither is he. Neither is any of us running for president.”
He later offered an oblique critique of Sanders’ combative call for revolution.
“Let’s remember we’re facing the most divisive president of our time, which is why we can’t risk dividing Americans further,” Buttigieg told more than
1,800 people at an event in Nashua, New Hampshire.
Later in Dover, he declared himself the candidate on the rise. “We are the campaign with the strongest momentum in the state of New Hampshire, thanks to you,” he told a crowd of several hundred.
While responding to some of the attacks, Buttigieg didn’t escalate any feuds on Sunday. That could help him maintain the energy of his optimistic Iowa campaign in which he portrayed himself as above the
“Part of the reason why he’s doing well is he’s got a pretty sunny and upbeat presentation,” said David Axelrod, a former senior adviser to Obama. “Tactically, I think it’s smart to handle it the way he’s handling it. We still don’t know what the impact any of this will have.”
But in a sign of potential hurdles ahead for Buttigieg, even voters in an overwhelmingly white state like New Hampshire said they wanted to see evidence that he could build relationships with people of color. Kim Holman of Brookline, New Hampshire, said she was undecided but leaning toward Buttigieg’s “energy and passion.” Yet his struggle so far especially with black voters weighs on her decision.
“It’s definitely a concern. New Hampshire is a superwhite state,” the 52-year-old personal trainer said. “I’m hoping he resonates more with people of color.”
Buttigieg’s standing has posed a challenge to Sanders.
Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg greets people on Sunday in Dover, N.H.