Election 2020

Can Pete Buttigieg Save the Democratic Party from Bernie Sanders?

(AP Photo/South Bend Tribune, Marcus Marter)

Whither the Democrats? Will they lurch so far left that they fall off a cliff, dragging the entire party to ruin? Or will they listen to the voices from the middle of the country telling them to stop being crazy and get to work?

With Joe Biden sinking into irrelevancy, Elizabeth Warren fading fast, and other candidates preparing their exit speeches after the New Hampshire primary is over, the Bernie Sanders juggernaut is ready to steamroll the opposition and ride Trump hatred and socialist delusions all the way to the Democratic convention in July.

Can anyone stop him? The genuine surprise from the Iowa caucuses was South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg who, with 97 percent of the vote counted, still leads Sanders by a few thousand votes — we think. The national party has asked Iowa to please recanvass the results and get the damn thing right.

Not that it matters. Mission accomplished for Mayor Pete. He outperformed expectations spectacularly. He exposed Joe Biden’s failed candidacy, Elizabeth Warren’s “me too” socialism,” and Bernie Sanders’ true vulnerability — that far-left “enthusiasm” will only take him so far.

So Buttigieg will go to New Hampshire in unfamiliar territory: a frontrunner. It was at this point in 1980 that George Bush, after having dispatched Ronald Reagan in Iowa, claimed “the Big Mo” and proceeded to crack up his candidacy. The world turned its attention to Bush and all he could talk about was “momentum.” He had nothing else meaningful to say.

Reagan crushed him in the primary.

What will Mayor Pete do with his new-found celebrity? In truth, he won’t have much to say that’s different than Bernie Sanders. He’ll say it nicely with a cute Midwestern twang, but he still supports Medicare for all, free college tuition, and other far-left liberal programs that frothing Democrats demand but the rest of us look at in askance.

Buttigieg has precious little time to search for themes. The primary is next Tuesday, February 11, and according to the latest Monmouth poll, he trails Sanders 24-20. That’s not insurmountable, especially with poll volatility being what it is and half of New Hampshirites willing to change their preference. But Sanders raised a cool $25 million in the 4th quarter in 2019, giving him a decent war chest going into Super Tuesday next month.

The stakes for Buttigieg are far higher in New Hampshire, given the primary calendar.

The Hill:

The stakes are high for Buttigieg, as the primary calendar will then turn from predominantly white states to more racially diverse states, where he has struggled to connect with voters of color.

“He needs a good showing in New Hampshire to help push him through Nevada and South Carolina that are going to be much harder states for him, and to also keep making the case to being the alternative to Biden,” said Democratic strategist Eddie Vale.

The Buttigieg campaign is going all-in, betting momentum in the Granite State will open new pathways for him further down the road.

National black activists in Biden’s corner have been pushing the narrative that as South Bend mayor, Buttigieg’s police department was anti-black. That’s easy to say about any city in America, but it appears to resonate with blacks in South Carolina, where Biden’s last stand is expected. Perhaps Buttigieg could appeal to blacks based on his status as a veteran with two tours in Iraq behind him?

Buttigieg’s homosexuality has not been an issue so far. What those crusty New Englanders in New Hampshire think of a gay mayor being the standard-bearer of the Democratic Party is unknown, however, and could be a wild card that either propels Buttigieg forward or stops him cold in New Hampshire.