Pete Buttigieg Surges
S1: If you want to know how far Pete Boudreau judges come just look him up on C-SPAN. Back in February he showed up to speak at this event with Democrats in a suburb just outside of Des Moines Iowa. There were maybe a couple dozen people in this room felt a little bit like a book signing but a judge hadn’t even officially declared his candidacy for president yet. The Washington Post has called him the most interesting Mayor you’ve never heard of.
S2: When the woman introducing him mentions that Buddha judge won 80 percent of the vote back in South Bend during his last mayoral election he makes this embarrassed smile. Like who. Me.
S3: Flash forward to a couple weeks ago. Please welcome to the. This is also in Des Moines at an event called the Liberty injustice dinner. But now the audience is holding thunder sticks. They’re wearing bracelets that light up in time with Mayor Pete’s walk on music. They’ve become fans. And it takes Buda judge a full minute to just get a word in edgewise.
S4: Can you introduce me to some of the Iowans who are really responding to me. Pete. Like is it Beatlemania like screaming in the front row.
S5: It’s not quite Beatlemania because I think part of British judges appeal to voters particularly in a Midwestern state like Iowa is that he’s this relatable Midwestern mayor.
S2: Adam Renn is a reporter who has been riding around on booted judges campaign bus. He’s been writing about Buda judge since he was just a local mayor with big ambitions. Adam says that humble small town origin story. It’s part of the beauty judge appeal.
S5: There’s almost this sense from some supporters who wait along the rope line after an event to take a selfie with them that they already know him. There’s a sense that that he’s this known quality she’s familiar to them. And so it’s more of like you know seeing kind of a pen pal that you’ve been writing back and forth with for a long time and then finally meeting them in person.
S2: And that helps explain why Mayor Pete is now Iowa’s Democratic frontrunner. In one poll he has surged well ahead of Elizabeth Warren May 9 points above her.
S6: I didn’t expect that sort of a gap but stopped by stop on this four day bus tour. You could really sort of see that something was happening on the ground in Iowa. People were coming out. I talked to a number of independent voters who had never been to a caucus before despite living in Iowa all of their lives who told me that for the first time in their life they were going to caucus from there. Pete on February 3rd. Tonight as the Democratic candidates take the stage for yet another debate.
S1: Pete but a judge is going to be trying to keep this enthusiasm going. So how did the 37 year old mayor of South Bend get here. And how will his competitors try to knock him off his game. I’m Mary Harris. You are listening to what next. Stick with us.
S4: The last time there was Democratic debates I spoke to this political analyst Amy Walter and she said listen you should just watch Mia Pete and it feels like it’s turned out to be really prescient now like a month later.
S5: Yeah. You know when you look back at the sum total of voodoo judges debate performances it’s almost like he’s sort of a distance runner. And then the last debate that we saw he sort of like came out of nowhere it was almost like a different people to judge where he took things up a level and it was almost like he sort of started his kick and really sort of started to draw attention to himself by contrasting with fellow candidates like Senator Elizabeth Warren on a Medicare for All and contrasting his youth with former Vice President Joe Biden. So as we enter into tonight’s debate it’ll be really fascinating to see which Mayor Pete shows up. Are we going to see a pugilistic Pete that we saw last time or given his rise in Iowa. Are we going to see him pivot to this sort of statesman like figure where he’s sort of above the fray above the competition. I think both of those possibilities could pan out.
S4: He’s a little cocky too. I mean he he went on a TV show and basically said I think this is a two way race between me and Elizabeth Warren at this point which is saying something given that there are you know two dozen people in this race at this point.
S5: You know some people read his comments like that. But having spent time with them and sort of becoming a student of his political career I think I read it as more of almost a consultant sort of stepping outside of himself and stepping outside of the race and sort of analyzing where things were going a month or two out. So certainly his competitors and detractors saw this as something that was cocky and the net effect of it was yes somewhat hubris filled.
S4: Can we talk about how Pete but a judge got to this place because looking back he seems to have had the strategy that seems kind of brilliant. He hired media expert this woman Liz Smith and the idea in the early part of this year was just say no to no one. He would show up on whatever podcast wanted him and basically teach everyone how to pronounce his name and explain who he was.
S5: That’s right. And you know an example of that is in January right after he launched his exploratory committee he actually went on a local podcast here in Indianapolis called Pete the planner which is a personal financial planning podcast for people who want to save for retirement or are wondering how big their mortgage should be.
S7: This week on the beat the pointer shall we answer your money questions but better yet. No we don’t.
S5: I asked the questions this week of presidential candidate Pete bridges the mayor of South Bend he joked and he called in and talked about student loan debt and how he approached his personal finances.
S8: I was able to refinance my house a few years after purchasing it to take advantage of lower interest rates. But what we’ve not been able to do is do the same with the student debt. That’s also a very big part of our our finances.
S5: So yes he would say no to no one. You know as we got closer to April you had a town hall in Austin with CNN and sort of had this breakout moment where he criticized fellow Hoosier Vice President Mike Pence in a way that really elevated his platform.
S9: Speaking only for myself I can tell you that if me being gay was a choice it was a choice that was made far far above my pay grade and that’s the thing I wish that Mike Francis of the world would understand. You got a problem with who I am. Your problem is not with me.
S6: Your quarrel sir is with my creator and then from there he launches in April and sort of skyrockets in the polls and in fundraising he sort of blew a lot of his competitors out of the water with his second quarter fundraising results and he just kept going up and up.
S4: I want to go back to the fundraising a little bit because it feels like part of what happened was there was this strategy to get him on any and every outlet that would have him. So all the sudden Mayor Peters everywhere you’re hearing his name. People are listening. That brings in donors and then that seems to make the snowball roll even faster.
S5: Yeah. It’s like a flywheel it’s like a self-perpetuating cycle of positive press which leads to fundraising which leads to escalation in the polls. It’s fascinating because a year ago this month I could go to South Bend and sit down at a local cafe with them there and talk with him with sort of no one noticing. And now he’s followed by you know a dozen national reporters. He has his own private security. It’s sort of a sea change that has happened in just over a year.
S4: Is it fair to say in terms of the donors that he’s going after big ticket Democratic insiders who Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders might be avoiding.
S5: I think that’s part of it. In some ways he’s doing a lot of grassroots events in addition to these you know Democratic fat cats. So it’s sort of an above all all all the above strategy. You know he does have an appeal in corporate America to sort of centrist Democrats who are not happy with a Trump presidency and sort of see in Pete boot a judge someone who is thoughtful socially progressive but in some ways you know fiscally conservative as he he does you know talk about the national debt and was asked about it on this swing through Iowa and he sees it as sort of a generational problem. And
S6: so there is some corporate appeal there that results in fundraising.
S4: So this serves a but a judge has been having in Iowa. It’s important to Democrats for a lot of reasons but mostly because for the last few decades most of the time the Democratic nominee for president has won either Iowa or New Hampshire or both.
S5: That’s correct. So when you go back to the week before the liberty and justice Diner in Des Moines people on his campaign who had worked for President Obama’s campaign were sort of building it up as a sequel to what Obama did when he was in sort of a dogfight with Hillary Clinton in 2008 leading up into the Iowa caucuses in January. And he really used that speech as a way to to sort of leapfrog her and eventually win Iowa.
S10: I never expected to be here I always knew this journey was improbable. I’ve never been on a journey that wasn’t. I am running in this race because of what Dr. King called. The Fierce Urgency of Now. Because.
S5: At the time back in 2008 President Obama the first black president was struggling with voters of color in places like South Carolina. But once he won the Iowa caucuses that really sent a message to people in you know New Hampshire and South Carolina that if he could win in white rural Iowa that he could win. You know maybe anywhere in the country. And so Pete booted his advisers before the liberty and justice speech were actually sort of making a similar case that if he can do well in Iowa you know he’ll send a message to African-American voters in places like South Carolina and they might give him a second look.
S2: But he does his campaign needs that second look from black voters because that is where the mayors poll numbers are remarkably low. They have been for months he’s been criticized for how he deals with race by South Bend activists political pundits members of the Congressional Black Caucus. So I asked Adam what’s the campaign doing about this.
S11: He’s responding in a few different ways. Earlier this year he actually named an Indiana State Director for his campaign which I think a lot of people saw as presumptuous because Indiana doesn’t vote until May and this Indiana state director that he named was Ariel Brandy who is an African-American here in Indiana. Well respected well known in political circles. And he named her as his Indiana state director. And yet just this week she has been traveling to Georgia will be traveling to places like South Carolina to sort of more or less vouch for the mayor. She lives in South Bend. She’s a political player there with ties to the NAACP. And she will be someone who the campaign uses as a surrogate. Even though she is an Indiana state director in a number of states like South Carolina they’ve also identified African-Americans who live in South Bend and are favorable to the mayor to sort of be these validators on social media on outlets like Twitter. And also you know one has sort of been tasked with opening up a new South Bend office that’s designed to kind of be the public facing version of a campaign office and allow volunteers to come in from South Bend who support the mayor and actually make calls to early states in places like Iowa and New Hampshire and South Carolina on his behalf.
S4: It seems to me like when the mayor is called out on race he has a couple of different things that he does. One of the things that he does is he brings up his identity as a gay man. Can you talk a little bit about how that conversation goes when you’ve seen it happen.
S5: Yeah. That’s correct.
S12: He’s used to sort of this this part of his story not only with African-Americans but with people for example at a town hall in Iowa who have disabilities part of the basic idea of our campaign is that we need to open a seasonal belong in American life and the Americans right now in countless different ways and for countless different reasons have could put on the wrong side of fences the along. I felt this at one very particular way to my own life.
S5: But I have found that every voter I meet struggles with these same issues and he often says that all of us in one way or another have have brushed up this crisis of belonging whether we’re a minority whether we’re gay or we have a disability. You know he says all of us in different ways have been led to question whether we belong. And I know what it is to look on the news and see your rights up for debate. And that’s sort of the way that he talks to communities who might have other status.
S13: And he tries to identify with him in that way.
S4: The other thing that Pete tries to do is he likes to pivot to his plan. He has this plan called the Douglas plan which he released in June. And it’s a really multifaceted approach to dealing with structural racism. But even the rollout of that plan has been really fraught. Even in the last week.
S13: Yeah that’s correct. So one of the things they did to roar this plan was announced the endorsement of roughly 400 South Carolinians both African-Americans and white South Carolinians. And as as that announcement rolled out many people who were on the list received calls from neighbors and friends or other elected officials and they said you know we didn’t realize you were endorsing Pete bridge. And they would say well we’re not at Shelly what do you mean. And it would turn out their names would be on this list without what they felt was their consent. Not only that. Happened on their website when they had a contractor help build out their Web site. The contractor used a stock photo from Kenya on the Douglas plan page of their Web site to sort of market this which is incredibly tone deaf.
S4: It’s interesting to you you talk about this because it sounds like turning the key on an engine trying to get it to catch like trying again and again to try to get this plan to break through and get the attention of the people you want to signal to.
S14: That’s right. I think that’s an apt metaphor. And you know what the beauty George campaign would say is that look this is someone who has not been running for office for you know three decades like former Vice President Joe Biden who isn’t really well-known nationally. And when it comes to a group of voters who might be skeptical you know he’s going to naturally have to work hard and struggle for their vote.
S4: And yet time and again it seems like he struggles to get that engine to kick well before any of this was happening in South Carolina with the Douglas plan. I was looking at some earlier coverage of Pete boot a judge from back in September. There’s an article in Politico and the author straight out said that boot a judge has no strong and unique governing vision. And it stood out because I felt like at the root of it that’s a little bit what the African-American community is saying.
S14: So this is an article by my colleague at Politico Magazine brochure. And I think what he’s getting at there is that it’s difficult. I think when you’re the mayor of a town like South Bend as far as your governing vision is concerned because you know your job is to plow the streets from snow and to make sure the sewers work and to make sure the proverbial trains run on time. And so to boot a judge constantly throughout this year is navigating both the blessings and curses of being a mayor. She gets the blessings from being a mayor when he talks about you know nonpartisan or bipartisan approaches to governing solutions based you know policy. But he gets all of the curses of being a mayor when it comes to his policy because a mayor sort of is in some ways not ideological when it comes to you know plowing the streets or you know making sure the parking meters work. And so you know yes he gets the optics of being a mayor who’s out using a snowblower to clear the streets of snow but he also has to deal with the limitations of the power of his own office that he holds presently.
S4: Mm hmm. I wonder if you’d agree with your colleague and say yeah there’s no overarching vision or whether you’d say listen Mayor Pete is figuring it out that’s not really what his job was before.
S14: You know I think that my colleague makes a really compelling point. I think you know booted Ridge occupies this place in the field right now where he is trying to be the Goldilocks candidate not too progressive not too conservative. And he’s really benefiting from right from that right now. He smartly positioned himself as sort of an understudy to Joe Biden in the event that Joe Biden didn’t really catch on with voters. And so when you saw this poll come out from the Des Moines Register on Saturday night who you saw Biden plummet to third place and bridges occupy his spot. So you know I think he’s kind of pulled off. Up until this point that Goldilocks candidate with the drawback on that is that it doesn’t seem like he has defined commitments or values like say a senator Elizabeth Warren does.
S4: So while Elizabeth Warren is rolling around Iowa in a bus that says honk if you want big structural change the answer to that may be no thanks.
S14: That’s right. That’s right. And if Buda George was driving around the same bus it would be you know I’m going to take us forward not left or right.
S4: OK. So that sets us up for tonight. People the judge is going to walk onto this debate stage. How do you think the other candidates are going to respond to him.
S15: Well if the last few days leading up to tonight have been any indication it could be a slugfest. We’ve seen candidates like California senator Kamala Harris say she never had to acquire wasted talk about the black struggle because she was born with them.
S5: We’ve seen candidates like Haley and Castro question the mayor’s qualifications to lead the country. So if that all kind of comes together on the debate stage tonight it could be quite a conflagration.
S4: You said that his campaign is relishing this moment. What do you mean by that.
S14: Well when you go back to January or February many people including national news commentators couldn’t pronounce this candidate’s last name or sort of referred to him in a derisive way. And now here we are and he is leading according to two recent polls the first in the nation caucus state. They feel like they’ve gotten the job done which is to bring defeat but a judge as many voters as many eyeballs as many years as possible. They feel like that’s a success for them. And so now that they’re getting attacked it’s like look what we have done our plan all along has worked. And here’s the mayor of the fourth largest city in Indiana who is potentially becoming if not the front runner in Iowa the front runner.
S16: You know nationwide Adam Wrenn thank you so much for talking to me. Yeah my pleasure.
S17: Adam Wrenn writes for POLITICO Magazine and the Indianapolis monthly. All right. That’s the show. If you want to dig into Mayor Pete’s record when it comes to race. I highly recommend you go into our what next archives and find the last show we did without him. It’s called Mayor Pete’s policing problem. It is still a great listen. Check it out. What next is produced by Mary Wilson Jason De Leon Morris Silvers and Daniel Hewett. I’m Mary Harris. I will catch you back here tomorrow.