On an upswing, the Pete Buttigieg show rolls through New Hampshire

PORTSMOUTH, N.H. — Earlier this week, Pete Buttigieg traveled more than 100 miles through the Granite State on a bus emblazoned with his name and packed with over a dozen journalists. It’s a spectacle that hasn’t been seen in recent presidential races, but it’s part of a freewheeling strategy that has helped bring Buttigieg from relative obscurity to the top of the Democratic primary field. 

As the bus headed toward Buttigieg’s third event of the day in Rochester, N.H., on Monday, news broke that a Quinnipiac University poll was showing the South Bend, Ind., mayor in third place in the state, just 1 percentage point behind Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren. It was the latest sign Buttigieg has emerged as one of four frontrunners in the packed Democratic primary field along with Warren, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and former Vice President Joe Biden. 

Buttigieg welcomed news of the numbers, saying it reflects the “crowds we’re seeing in the gyms, the enthusiasm we’re seeing on the faces of the people that I speak to.” He added: “One poll is just any one poll, but I would hope that we start to see the numbers reflect the enthusiasm we feel on the ground, and it sounds like that might be validating that.”

The numbers are even better in Iowa, which is the first state to vote in the primary. On Saturday evening, a new poll came out that showed Buttigieg had surged into first place. That survey brought Buttigieg into the top spot in the state on average.

Buttigieg’s near constant media blitz since entering the race in January, combined with positioning himself as a moderate alternative to progressive candidates, appears in recent weeks to be paying off. The mayor has already done hundreds of interviews, according to his campaign, and has gone on three of these media bus tours, two in Iowa and this latest one here in New Hampshire.

He sees the press engagement as a crucial part of his recent success.

“I think this has served us well. We believe in trying as much as possible to show in the course of the campaign what the White House would look like with me as president, and part of that is believing in the importance of engaging with press and the importance of as much transparency and access as we can responsibly offer,” Buttigieg said.

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Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg works the grill during the Polk County Democrats Steak Fry, Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Mayor Pete Buttigieg speaks during the Iowa Democratic Party's Liberty and Justice Celebration, Friday, Nov. 1, 2019, in Des Moines, Iowa. (Photo: Nati Harnik/AP)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 23: Mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Pete Buttigeig speaks during a news conference January 23, 2019 in Washington, DC. Buttigeig held a news conference to announce that he is forming an exploratory committee to run for the Democratic presidential nomination. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Democratic 2020 U.S. presidential candidate Mayor Pete Buttigieg speaks at a Democratic Party fundraising dinner, the Liberty and Justice Celebration, in Des Moines, Iowa, U.S. November 1, 2019. REUTERS/Eric Thayer
Democratic 2020 U.S. presidential candidate Mayor Pete Buttigieg speaks during a campaign rally in front of the State House after filing his declaration of candidacy papers to get his name on the ballot for the New Hampshire primary in Concord, New Hampshire, U.S. October 30, 2019. REUTERS/Elizabeth Frantz
Democratic 2020 U.S. presidential candidate Mayor Pete Buttigieg visits the gift shop after filing his declaration of candidacy papers to get his name on the ballot for the New Hampshire primary at the State House in Concord, New Hampshire, U.S. October 30, 2019. REUTERS/Elizabeth Frantz
ROCHESTER, NEW HAMPSHIRE - NOVEMBER 11: Democratic presidential candidate South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg greets people after making a Veterans Day address at the Rochester Opera House on November 11, 2019 in Rochester, New Hampshire. Buttigieg is on the last day of a four day bus tour as he campaigns across the state. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
LATE NIGHT WITH SETH MEYERS -- Episode 547 -- Pictured: (l-r) South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg during an interview with host Seth Meyers on June 22, 2017 -- (Photo by: Lloyd Bishop/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, center, speaks with attendees during a campaign stop in Ankeny, Iowa, U.S., on Friday, Feb. 8, 2019. A flurry of proposals to slap new taxes on the ultra-wealthy, extend Medicare to all Americans and make college debt-free reflect a rapidly changing Democratic Party that sees a sharp left turn as the path to defeating President Donald Trump. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, speaks during a campaign stop in Ankeny, Iowa, U.S., on Friday, Feb. 8, 2019. A flurry of proposals to slap new taxes on the ultra-wealthy, extend Medicare to all Americans and make college debt-free reflect a rapidly changing Democratic Party that sees a sharp left turn as the path to defeating President Donald Trump. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images
THE VIEW - Mayor of South Bend, Indiana and democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg visits ABC's 'The View' on Thursday, January 31, 2019. 'The View' airs Monday-Friday (11:00 am-12:00 noon, ET) on the ABC Television Network. (Photo by Lorenzo Bevilaqua/ABC via Getty Images) JOY BEHAR, PETER BUTTIGIEG, SUNNY HOSTIN
South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who is exploring a Presidential candidacy speaks at the University of Chicago on February 13, 2019 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Joshua Lott / AFP) (Photo credit should read JOSHUA LOTT/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 14: 32nd Mayor of South Bend, Indiana and 2020 Democratic Presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg is seen arriving at 'The Late Show With Stephen Colbert' at the Ed Sullivan Theater on February 14, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Gilbert Carrasquillo/GC Images)
AUSTIN, TX - MARCH 09: Pete Buttigieg speaks onstage at Conversations About America's Future: Mayor Pete Buttigieg during the 2019 SXSW Conference and Festivals at Austin City Limits Live at the Moody Theater on March 8, 2019 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Hutton Supancic/Getty Images for SXSW)
NEW YORK - FEBRUARY 13: The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and guest Pete Buttigieg during Thursday's February 14, 2019 show. (Photo by Scott Kowalchyk/CBS via Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA - JULY 07: Mayor Pete Buttigieg speaks on stage at 2019 ESSENCE Festival Presented By Coca-Cola at Ernest N. Morial Convention Center on July 07, 2019 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Paras Griffin/Getty Images for ESSENCE)
NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA - JULY 07: Mayor Pete Buttigieg speaks at the 25th Essence Festival at Ernest N. Morial Convention Center on July 07, 2019 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Josh Brasted/FilmMagic)
PROVINCETOWN, MA - JULY 5: Signs emblazoned with "Pete Town" are left behind after a rally for U.S. presidential candidate and mayor of South Bend, IN Pete Buttigieg in Provincetown, MA on July 5, 2019. Hundreds of people were in attendance for the democratic presidential hopeful. (Photo by Erin Clark for The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
PROVINCETOWN, MA - JULY 5: Theresa Moehlman, left, and Andrea Sawyer attend a rally for U.S. presidential candidate and mayor South Bend, IN Pete Buttigieg in Provincetown, MA on July 5, 2019. Hundreds of people were in attendance for the Democratic presidential hopeful. (Photo by Erin Clark for The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - JULY 02: Democratic presidential candidate and South Bend, Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg (L) meets with Rev. Jesse Jackson at the Rainbow PUSH Coalition Annual International Convention on July 2, 2019 in Chicago, Illinois. Buttigieg is dealing with racial tension in South Bend following the shooting death of Eric Logan, a black man, who was shot by South Bend Police Sgt. Ryan O'Neill, who is white. O'Neill shot Logan while investigating a report of car break-ins in the area. Logan was reported to be holding a knife when he was shot. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - JULY 02: Democratic presidential candidate and South Bend, Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg (L) speaks with Rev. Jesse Jackson at the Rainbow PUSH Coalition Annual International Convention on July 2, 2019 in Chicago, Illinois. Buttigieg is dealing with racial tension in South Bend following the shooting death of Eric Logan, a black man, who was shot by South Bend Police Sgt. Ryan O'Neill, who is white. O'Neill shot Logan while investigating a report of car break-ins in the area. Logan was reported to be holding a knife when he was shot. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - JULY 02: Democratic presidential candidate and South Bend, Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg speaks at the Rainbow PUSH Coalition Annual International Convention on July 2, 2019 in Chicago, Illinois. Buttigieg is dealing with racial tension in South Bend following the shooting death of Eric Logan, a black man, who was shot by South Bend Police Sgt. Ryan O'Neill, who is white. O'Neill shot Logan while investigating a report of car break-ins in the area. Logan was reported to be holding a knife when he was shot. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
SOUTH BEND, INDIANA - JUNE 29: Democratic presidential candidate and South Bend, Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg greets residents before the start of a Peace Walk hosted by Christ Temple Apostolic Church on June 29, 2019 in South Bend, Indiana. The event was held as the funeral for Eric Logan was being held in nearby Mishawaka. Logan was shot and killed by South Bend Police Sgt. Ryan O'Neill who was investigating a report of car break-ins in the area. Logan was reported to be holding a knife when he was shot. The shooting caused outrage in the community and turmoil for Buttigieg as a mayor and as a candidate. “It’s a mess” said Buttigieg referring to the shooting during the presidential debate in Miami on Thursday. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
SOUTH BEND, INDIANA - JUNE 29: Democratic presidential candidate and South Bend, Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg greets residents before the start of a Peace Walk hosted by Christ Temple Apostolic Church on June 29, 2019 in South Bend, Indiana. The event was held as the funeral for Eric Logan was being held in nearby Mishawaka. Logan was shot and killed by South Bend Police Sgt. Ryan O'Neill who was investigating a report of car break-ins in the area. Logan was reported to be holding a knife when he was shot. The shooting caused outrage in the community and turmoil for Buttigieg as a mayor and as a candidate. “It’s a mess” said Buttigieg referring to the shooting during the presidential debate in Miami on Thursday. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
SOUTH BEND, INDIANA - JUNE 29: Democratic presidential candidate and South Bend, Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg participates in a Peace Walk hosted by Christ Temple Apostolic Church on June 29, 2019 in South Bend, Indiana. The event was held as the funeral for Eric Logan was being held in nearby Mishawaka. Logan was shot and killed by South Bend Police Sgt. Ryan O'Neill who was investigating a report of car break-ins in the area. Logan was reported to be holding a knife when he was shot. The shooting caused outrage in the community and turmoil for Buttigieg as a mayor and as a candidate. “It’s a mess” said Buttigieg referring to the shooting during the presidential debate in Miami on Thursday. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
HOMESTEAD, FLORIDA - JUNE 28: Democratic Presidential candidate, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former housing secretary Julian Castro, former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper, and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) speak to the media as they visit the outside of a detention center for migrant children on June 28, 2019 in Homestead, Florida. Democratic presidential candidates visited the detention center, which is the nation's largest center for detaining immigrant children, as the candidates spend time in the Miami area after participating in a nationally televised debate. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
NBC NEWS ELECTION COVERAGE -- The First Democratic Debate -- Pictured: Pete Buttigieg, at The Knight Concert Hall, Miami Florida on Thursday, June 27, 2019-- (Photo by: Gustavo Cabellero /NBC News/MSNBC/Telemundo)
Democratic presidential hopefuls Mayor of South Bend, Indiana Pete Buttigieg speaks during the second Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season hosted by NBC News at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami, Florida, June 27, 2019. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) / ALTERNATIVE CROP (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
COLUMBIA, SC - JUNE 22: Democratic presidential candidate South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg addresses the crowd at the 2019 South Carolina Democratic Party State Convention on June 22, 2019 in Columbia, South Carolina. Democratic presidential hopefuls are converging on South Carolina this weekend for a host of events where the candidates can directly address an important voting bloc in the Democratic primary. (Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images)
RICHMOND, VIRGINIA - JUNE 15: Democratic presidential candidate and Mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Pete Buttigieg attends the 2019 Blue Commonwealth Gala fundraiser June 15, 2019 in Richmond, Virginia. Nearly 1,800 attended the event featuring Buttigieg and Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN). (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
CHARLESTON, SC - JUNE 15: Democratic presidential candidate South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg participates in the Black Economic Alliance Forum at the Charleston Music Hall on June 15, 2019 in Charleston, South Carolina. The Black Economic Alliance, is a nonpartisan group founded by Black executives and business leaders, and is hosting the forum in order to help Black voters understand the candidate's platforms. (Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JUNE 12: Democratic presidential candidate Mayor Pete Buttigieg shakes a woamans hand as he attends a rally protesting against President Donald Trump policies outside of the White House in Washington on Wednesday June 12, 2019. (Photo by Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)
CEDAR RAPIDS, IOWA - JUNE 09: Democratic presidential candidate and South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg speaks at the Iowa Democratic Party's Hall of Fame Dinner on June 9, 2019 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Nearly all of the 23 Democratic candidates running for president were campaigning in Iowa this weekend. President Donald Trump has two events scheduled in the state on Tuesday. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
BLOOMINGTON, INDIANA, UNITED STATES - 2019/06/11: South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who is running for the Democratic nomination for President of the United States answers question during a press gaggle after delivering an hour long speech on foreign policy and security at the Indiana University Auditorium in Bloomington. (Photo by Jeremy Hogan/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
DES MOINES, IOWA - JUNE 08: Democratic presidential candidate and South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg arrives for a campaign stop at the Capital City Pride Fest on June 08, 2019 in Des Moines, Iowa. Most of the more than 20 candidates seeking the Democratic nomination for president are campaigning at various locations in Iowa this weekend. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
SHOWALTER FOUNTAIN, BLOOMINGTON, INDIANA, UNITED STATES - 2019/06/10: Screen printed posters dry after Jim Beck, of badkneests, made them as a fundraiser for South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who is running for the Democratic nomination for president of the United States, at the Showalter Fountain on the campus of Indiana University. Beck was exchanging the posters for a donation he will contribute to Buttigieg's presidential campaign before a representative of the auditorium said he had to move to the free speech zone blocks away in Dunn Meadow. Tickets for Buttigieg's speech on foreign policy and national security Tuesday were being distributed nearby at the Indiana University Auditorium. For those who didn't get tickets Monday, according to a press release, "A standby line for general public who did not claim a ticket will be recognized beginning at 9:30 a.m. in front of the School of Art, Architecture, and Design just west of the Auditorium.". (Photo by Jeremy Hogan/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
DES MOINES, IOWA - JUNE 08: Democratic presidential candidate and South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg speaks during a campaign stop at the Capital City Pride Fest on June 08, 2019 in Des Moines, Iowa. Most of the more than 20 candidates seeking the Democratic nomination for president are campaigning at various locations in Iowa this weekend. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - JUNE 06: Democratic presidential candidate and Mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Pete Buttigieg speaks to a crowd at the African American Leadership Council on June 6, 2019 in Atlanta, Georgia. The DNC hosted its African American Leadership Council (AALC) Summit at the Westin Peachtree Plaza in downtown Atlanta. (Photo by Dustin Chambers/Getty Images)
MSNBC - Election Coverage "Hardball Town Hall with Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Chris Matthews" -- Pictured: (l-r) Chris Matthews, Mayor Pete Buttigieg (Photo by: David Moir/MSNBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA - JUNE 01: Supporters of Democratic presidential candidate South Bend, Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg hold signs as he speaks during the California Democrats 2019 State Convention at the Moscone Center on June 01, 2019 in San Francisco, California. Several Democratic presidential candidates are speaking at the California Democratic Convention that runs through Sunday. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 23: Democratic presidential candidate Mayor Pete Buttigieg (R) answers questions from reporter Robert Costa (L) at a Washington Post Live discussion May 23, 2019 in Washington, DC. Buttigieg’s appearance was the first of the Washington Post’s “2020 Candidates” series of discussions. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MAY 22: Mayor Pete Buttigieg poses backstage at Mayor Pete Buttigieg in Conversation with The Washington Post's Jonathan Capehart interview at 92nd Street Y on May 22, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by John Lamparski/Getty Images)
MIAMI, FLORIDA - MAY 20: Democratic presidential candidate and South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg speaks during a grassroots fundraiser at the Wynwood Walls on May 20, 2019 in Miami, Florida. Buttigieg is one of more than 20 candidates seeking the Democratic nomination for president. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
MIAMI, FLORIDA - MAY 20: Democratic presidential candidate and South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg speaks during a grassroots fundraiser at the Wynwood Walls on May 20, 2019 in Miami, Florida. Buttigieg is one of more than 20 candidates seeking the Democratic nomination for president. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
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Buttigieg isn’t the first presidential candidate to have this kind of press bus. His long rides with reporters have clear echoes of the “Straight Talk Express” the late Arizona Sen. John McCain rode as he locked down the Republican nomination in 2008. 

“Definitely [we] got a lot of comparisons to another bus tour, some of which I think we had to work through to reflect the fact that I’m a different person and this is a different era than the last time this had been done,” Buttigieg said of McCain.

Presidential candidates are typically drawn from the ranks of Congress or governor’s mansions, but Buttigieg, who was elected in 2011, is mayor of a city with a little more than 100,000 residents. When Buttigieg began the race, few people knew his name. By June, nearly three quarters of Democratic voters were familiar with him. Buttigieg’s rise from a Midwestern city hall to near the head of the Democratic pack has been a source of frustration for some of his rivals who have privately griped about his relative inexperience. He brushed off that critique when asked about it on the bus. 

“I’m not really focused on that,” Buttigieg said. “I think that if we continue to reach voters with the right message, then that’s how we’re going to win.”

At 37, Buttigieg is also younger than any of his rivals, or any other president in history. He would be the first millennial president and the first openly gay man to hold the office. He spent six years as an intelligence officer in the Navy Reserves, including a stint in Afghanistan in 2014 that required Buttigieg to take a leave from City Hall. 

That military experience is something that Buttigieg said “shapes my understanding of what public office means.” The mayor spent last Monday in New Hampshire celebrating Veterans Day, and he rolled out a plan for veterans’ services, including an emphasis on programs for their families. 

While has has gained momentum in recent weeks, Buttigieg has not returned to the high numbers he saw before a June incident when a white South Bend police officer shot and killed a black man. The shooting put a national spotlight on the fact his hometown had a dramatic spike in violent crime this year, and it sparked angry protests from the city’s African-American residents who were dissatisfied with his oversight of the police department. 

The demonstrations called attention to Buttigieg’s relative lack of support among black voters, underscored by a poll in October in South Carolina, where African-Americans make up the majority of Democratic primary voters. Buttigieg’s black support there was at an anemic 1 percent

Buttigieg’s response to the situation included setting up meetings with Black Lives Matter activists to discuss potential reforms. However, some of the community groups criticized Buttigieg after their meetings with him and said he“rushed” the conversation.

Buttigieg hasn’t attended all of the police reform meetings in the city, but said he’s confident change will begin on his watch.

“It’s true that I haven’t been in the room for all of those community meetings, but I’ve certainly participated and I think they’ve set us up in a very good direction. They’ve culminated in a set of recommendations that went to our board of public safety … and the board will be taking those up,” he said. “I think at least some of those components will be acted on in even the weeks before I leave office.”

Buttigieg’s issues with black voters won’t pose much of an issue in the initial phase of the primary. Iowa and New Hampshire, which are the first two states on the calendar, are over 90 percent white. On the bus, Buttigieg defended the current schedule by pointing to the next two states on the calendar, which are more diverse.

“The role of the first four states taken together is very healthy for this process,” Buttigieg said, adding, “You have such different states from each other in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada.”

While in some ways Buttigieg is an unconventional candidate, he is pushing for a more moderate approach than many of his rivals. Along with his nonstop media blitz, Buttigieg’s success so far is, at least in part, due to voters who are looking for a centrist option in the Democratic field. Both Sanders and Warren support a Medicare for All plan that would establish a public health care system. 

Buttigieg has pushed “Medicare for All Who Want It,” which would preserve some private health insurance plans. Though his policies are clearly less radical than those of some opponents, Buttigieg rejects the labels of “moderate” and “centrist” and instead paints himself as a pragmatist.

“It’s certainly the case that I don’t have a lot of appetite for an extreme solution on health care, for example,” said Buttigieg. 

Buttigieg may not see himself as a centrist, but many of his supporters clearly do. Carol McMahon, a retired insurance agent who lives in New Hampshire and attended the mayor’s speech in Rochester, said she has campaigned for Buttigieg in her home state and Iowa. McMahon said she has met many New Hampshire voters who aren’t aware of Buttigieg but are primed to back him because they feel Sanders and Warren are “too far left” to beat President Trump and worry the other more moderate frontrunner, Biden, is “too weak.” 

“So, I say you just pulled right into Mayor Pete’s driveway with those comments,” McMahon said.

 

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