Mayor Pete Buttigieg in firing line ahead of N.H. primary
Manchester, N.H. — Rivals of presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg moved with urgency here Sunday to slow his momentum, sharply critiquing his struggles with nonwhite voters, lack of government experience and indebtedness to wealthy donors.
The 38-year-old former mayor of South Bend, Ind., who is consistently polling at the top of the field here, just behind Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, jabbed back. He emerged on all five of the Sunday morning political talk shows — the only candidate to do so — where he made the case that the movement to stop him embodied an arrogant Washington mindset turning voters against Democrats.
“We know that we might look small from the perspective of Washington but for us it is what is going on in Washington that is small and small-minded,” Buttigieg said on CNN’s “State of the Nation.” He said communities in the industrial Midwest and rural America “are frustrated by being made into a punchline by Washington politicians.”
Buttigieg was responding to stepped up attacks led by former Vice President Joe Biden, who posted a new digital ad this weekend mocking Buttigieg’s achievements in South Bend. Biden also unleashed on the former mayor at a news conference Saturday, during which he said “this guy’s not a Barack Obama.”
“He’s right,” Buttigieg said on CNN. “I am not. Neither is he. Neither is any of us running for president. This is not 2008. It is 2020. And we are in a new moment calling for a different kind of leadership. We are facing the most disruptive president in modern times. I don’t think the same playbook that helped us get here is going to work against him.”
Tracking polls suggested the critiques may be having an effect, stalling his ascendancy as New Hampshire voters prepare to go to the polls Tuesday. But those reconsidering Buttigieg are not necessarily aligning with Biden, the candidate most aggressively attacking him, and the one who has arguably been hurt the most as Buttigieg began to dominate the centrist lane of the race following a strong showing in Iowa on Monday.
While the race remains fluid, Biden is showing little sign of gaining ground. He stepped up efforts to reignite his candidacy Sunday with an interview on ABC’s “This Week” in which he repeatedly and pointedly critiqued Buttigieg.
“No one has ever won the nomination without being able to get overwhelming support from the African American community,” Biden said. “And, so far, no one’s been doing that but me.” The former vice president continues to poll strongly in more diverse states that vote after New Hampshire.
Biden expressed bewilderment at how Buttigieg has painted him as a relic and unprepared for the realities of this political era.
“He’s been saying that the reason we’re in the problem right now is because of the recent past,” Biden said. “That’s eight years of Obama and me. I don’t get that. I don’t understand that. And I think he has completely misunderstood or misrepresented my record.”
Biden then listed his work in managing the auto industry bailout, passing the chemical weapons treaty and championing the Paris accord to address climate change.
“I don’t understand how those things don’t matter,” Biden said. “What has he done? Who has he pulled together?”
The former vice president went on to take aim at the scant support Buttigieg has among nonwhite voters.
“He hasn’t been able to unify the black community,” Biden said, pointing to a African American councilman in South Bend who endorsed Biden without even being asked. “To win… you’re going to have to be able to win states like Pennsylvania, you’re going to have to be able to win Florida. We’re going to have to be able to win in a lot of places that in fact have very diverse populations, and so the assertion that he’s ready across the board, I don’t see it.”
The increasing tension in the race was evident as several candidates pivoted to avoid a weak showing in New Hampshire, which could be devastating to their White House aspirations.
Even as Sanders attacked Buttigieg, arguing he would not be a champion to working people because he is too indebted to CEO donors, he affirmed on CBS’ “Face the Nation” that he would work to get him elected if Buttigieg is the nominee. Sanders said the same about billionaire candidate Michael Bloomberg, a favorite nemesis of his campaign.
But Buttigieg was the focus Sunday because Bloomberg is skipping the first four contests and is not on the ticket in New Hampshire.
“At last count he has about 40 billionaires who are contributing to his campaign, the heads of, the CEOs of the large pharmaceutical industries and the insurance companies,” Sanders said on CBS. “Do you really think that when somebody gets contributions from the CEOs of drug companies, they’re going to stand up to the greed and corruption of that industry? I don’t think so.”
Sanders released a new digital ad in which he makes that case and calls out Buttigieg by name.
The argument was echoed Sunday by fellow New England candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who appeared on ABC’s “This Week.” Warren is struggling to break into the top tier in New Hampshire, a state that is crucial for her to win. The senator has already had to cancel planned spending in South Carolina as she worked to breathe more oxygen into her campaign here.
“If it’s going to take sucking up to billionaires or being a billionaire to get the Democratic nomination to run for president, then all I can say is, buckle up, America, because our government is going to work even better for billionaires than everyone else,” Warren said.