When South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg appeared on the scene as a presidential hopeful, many responded with, “Pete who?” Far from a household name, and facing a crowded Democratic primary field, it remained to be seen if he would have what it takes to enter the top tier of candidates. It didn’t take long for that answer to come.
The country got to know him quickly, helped in part by being only the second out gay presidential candidate for a major party, and the first for the Democratic Party—Fred Karger having run as a Republican in the 2012 race. He rose to third in the Iowa caucus poll in late March. A month later, major polls had him tied with Sen. Kamala Harris for third.
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The most recent round of polling shows Buttigieg’s support slipping, as he now trails former Vice President Biden, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Sen. Bernie Sanders, and Harris, leaving him in the fifth spot.
In happier news for Team Buttigieg, he has taken in a huge haul in the second fundraising quarter, pulling in $24.8 million, outpacing all of his fellow Democratic presidential candidates. Biden, who remains the party’s front-runner despite slipping in the polls himself, brought in the second highest amount in the second quarter, with $21.5 million raised. Warren brought in $19.1 million, and Sanders raised $18 million.
None of the candidates came anywhere close to President Donald Trump’s number, however, with his campaign announcing he’d raised $54 million. The RNC raised an additional $51 million, as well, to put toward Trump’s re-election. Whoever becomes the Democratic nominee will need the party to coalesce around him or her and open their wallets to combat the massive amount of money pouring in on the other side.
The Democratic candidates have had to struggle with where they raise their campaign funds in a way that Republicans have not, with a base generally more concerned with the impact of corporate funds influencing a politician’s decision-making.
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Buttigieg and his husband, Chasten Glezman Buttigieg, wait to be introduced during a grassroots fundraiser at the Wynwood Walls on May 20, 2019 in Miami, Florida.
All of them have therefore pledged to not take money from corporate PACs. Additionally, Buttigieg has pledged not to take money from the fossil fuel industry, as well as not accept funds from corporate lobbyists.
Harris has made the same pledges, while Biden and Warren have made all of the above pledges plus one not to take money from any Super PAC (as have some other, non-top tier candidates). Sanders has pledged not to take money from the fossil fuel industry and to not accept Super PAC money, but has not pledged to not accept funds from corporate lobbyists.
Speaking to David Axelrod for CNN, Buttigieg was reminded of a passage in his book Shortest Way Home, which came out earlier this year, that suggests fundraising is an unhealthy practice over time.
“You’ve just done 70 fundraisers, in places like Hollywood, Wall Street, and Silicon Valley,” he added. “You’ve become kind of a favored candidate of the elite. Does it give you any concern?”
Buttigieg said he was “trying to reach everybody at every different level,” noting the campaign is also holding “grassroots fundraisers” with lower ticket costs “to make sure that we’re interacting not just with the traditional party raisers, but really anybody who really cares where this country’s headed.”
Axelrod was quick to point out that Warren isn’t holding any fundraisers “because she thinks they’re corrosive,” leaving Buttigieg to defend his position.
“Ultimately, this only gets better when we fix the system itself. Citizens United was a disaster for American democracy,” he added. “Until we change our campaign finance system, we are going to continue to have this problem, that the people we elect and expect to spend their time solving our policy problems are spending way too much of their time just raising the dollars they need to pay the field organizers in Iowa.”
Buttigieg is doing just that, using the advantage of his increased campaign funds to hire more staff. A spokesperson for the campaign told CNN on Friday that they now had more than 250 people on staff.
“What we know is, for all of the success that we’ve had early on, there are still a great many Americans who haven’t heard of us or don’t know much about me and my campaign,” Buttigieg told CNN. “So what it tells you, we’ve got a lot of upside out there, but we’ve got to go introduce ourselves.”
He added the campaign is now “primarily concerned with the things that are under our control and the biggest of that is how we use these resources in order to fortify our base and get known better and better.”
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Taking to the debate stage late last month helped expose the 37-year-old mayor to a wider audience, but it did not result in a bump in the polls, suggesting his team has more work to do and leads to questions of whether the influx of cash will be enough.
Buttigieg has so far relied heavily on personality over detailed policy plans, and has faced controversy over the police shooting death of a black man in South Bend. He has taken responsibility for not hiring more black police officers, and earlier this month he released details of a racial justice plan.
Whether it will be enough to win back support, or if the candidacy of the would-be first out gay president will fizzle as quickly as it flashed will unveil itself as the race unfolds, but as for now both his poll numbers and his fundraising efforts will keep him in the debates and in the race.
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The candidate with Rev. Jesse Jackson at the Rainbow PUSH Coalition Annual International Convention on July 2, 2019 in Chicago, Illinois.
As others begin to fall by the wayside, and their supporter are absorbed by other candidates remaining in the race, how Team Buttigieg spends their newfound resources will play a big role in how many new devotees Mayor Pete can pick up.
Either way, he will have to convince the majority of Democratic primary voters he is their best option to take down Trump. With Biden still leading in the polls, despite his never ending gaffes and struggling with a past that is even more racially fraught than Buttigieg’s, it appears it will take some serious doing to convince the base they need a fresh new face.