Most of the polling ahead of Tuesday’s New Hampshire’s Democratic presidential primary shows Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) in the lead — but you might not know it, listening to the other candidates in recent days.
Rather than going after the Vermont senator, Democratic contenders have targeted the relative political newcomer who put on a surprisingly strong showing in Iowa: Former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
The attacks speak to Buttigieg’s political promise coming out of Iowa, but also to the danger New Hampshire poses to his budding campaign.
The candidate with the most to lose from a strong Buttigieg showing also has the most on the line in New Hampshire more generally: Former Vice President Joe Biden.
Biden, who placed fourth in Iowa, threw a wide left hook on Saturday, releasing an attack ad comparing his achievements as Vice President to Buttigieg’s as a small town mayor.
Former Mayor Pete doesn’t think very highly of the Obama-Biden record. Let’s compare. pic.twitter.com/132TB7MHaq
— Joe Biden (Text Join to 30330) (@JoeBiden) February 8, 2020
In the Obama White House, Biden “helped lead the passage of the Affordable Care Act,” the ad declares. Meanwhile, in South Bend, Buttigieg “installed decorative lights under bridges.”
That was hardly it. Speaking to reporters Saturday, Biden said of Buttigieg: “This guy’s not a Barack Obama!” And in an interview the following day, the former vice president referenced his work on the recession-era federal bailout program vis a vis South Bend: “We bailed out his city.”
(Buttigieg’s campaign told TPM that Biden’s decision to run the ad “speaks more to where he currently stands in this race than it does about Pete’s perspective as a mayor and veteran.”)
Biden’s attacks aren’t entirely surprising: After placing fourth in Iowa, the former Vice President is aiming at the 38-year-old who, arguably, shares his political lane — one of folksy pragmatism and big-tent party politics, not political revolution.
But Biden wasn’t alone: The other centrist in the race, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), has improved slightly in New Hampshire polling in recent days, and she’s trained her fire on Buttigieg, as well.
During Friday night’s debate, she contrasted the high-stakes Senate impeachment trial to a recent comment from Buttigieg that he was “exhausted by the current state of politics,” which he said made him want to “switch it off and just watch cartoons or something.”
“It is easy to go after Washington, because that’s a popular thing to do,” Klobuchar said, adding: “I think this going after every single thing that people do because it’s popular to say and makes you look like a cool newcomer — I don’t think that’s what people want right now. We have a newcomer in the White House and look where it got us.”
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), coming out of Iowa with a respectable third-place finish, has also spent several days focused on Buttigieg’s reliance on big donors and consultant-vetted policy proposals.
On the debate stage Friday night, asked about former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s deep-pocketed campaign, Warren replied: “I don’t think anyone ought to be able to buy their way into a nomination or to be president of the United States. I don’t think any billionaire ought to be able to do it, and I don’t think people who suck up to billionaires in order to fund their campaigns ought to be able to do it.”
It was a pointed jab at the former South Bend mayor, who’s attended dozens of high-dollars fundraisers to fuel his presidential run. (It was also a glancing shot at Sanders, whose opponents have drawn attention to the 501(c)4 group Our Revolution, which supports him.)
On Saturday night, Warren implicitly hit Buttigieg again at the McIntyre-Shaheen dinner in Manchester, where she said she was not “running a race that has been shaped by a bunch of consultants. I’m not offering a bunch of proposals that have been carefully designed not to offend big donors.”
Sanders, least surprising of the bunch, has also tried to keep Buttigieg well away from his polling lead in New Hampshire.
With hours to go before New Hampshire votes, the Democratic Socialist, who’s relied heavily (and successfully) on small-dollar fundraising, repeated his most straightforward line of attack against one of his more natural political foils.
“Our views are different,” the Vermont senator said Sunday. “Pete has raised campaign contributions from over 40 billionaires.”