Mayor Pete Buttigieg, the South Bend, Indiana mayor who is a Democratic candidate for president in 2020, is rising in polls in both Iowa and New Hampshire. He is putting himself in position to surpass former Vice President Joe Biden as the leading centrist in the Democratic race.
Buttigieg sky-rocketed to the top of a Saint Anselm poll in New Hampshire on Tuesday, receiving 25 percent of the support from 512 registered voters compared to 15 percent for Biden.
He also moved above the rest of the field in two big Iowa polls in the last week, creating a new round of interest around his candidacy.
The Indiana mayor landed in first place in a Des Moines Register-CNN-Mediacom poll over the weekend, winning 25 percent support from would-be caucusgoers. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) received 16 percent, while Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) each won 15 percent.
A Monmouth University poll last week also indicated that Buttigieg is leading Warren, Biden and Sanders in the Hawkeye State.
While Buttigieg is still struggling to build a coalition and draw support from black and Hispanic voters, Democrats say a victory in Iowa could give him a definite boost that might get other voters to give him a serious new look.
“It’s true that right now Buttigieg has a lot of work to do to gain nonwhite support but you don’t need much of a rainbow coalition to win Iowa and New Hampshire, and the momentum he’ll gain from that one-two punch, if he does win both, is substantial and maybe insurmountable,” said Democratic strategist Christy Setzer.
Democratic strategist Jim Manley said Buttigieg’s surge in Iowa comes at a particularly precarious time for Biden. Former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick has entered the Democratic race, and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is now seriously considering the race.
Both Patrick’s decision and Bloomberg’s possible entry have been interpreted as signs by the two Democrats, their supporters and party donors that Biden is too weak a candidate to win the nomination.
“The Biden folks in particular have to feel a little vulnerable right now,” Manley said. “Anything is possible. No one has a lock on the race.”
“Until he can really prove that he can energize a coalition of voters, there’s really nothing to worry about,” said one longtime ally. “You can’t win if you can’t get all of that support. It just won’t happen.”
Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs, said Team Biden shouldn’t worry yet.
“Although Iowa can matter and Mayor Pete has a formidable team, he is still not attracting the kind of broad support he will need to win in big states,” Zelizer said. “Biden is in much better shape to win working and lower-middle-class voters as well as the African American vote.”