Feb 1, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Pete Buttigieg's campaign doesn't think he needs to win Iowa

Pete Buttigieg in Waterloo, Iowa. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

DES MOINES, Iowa — Pete Buttigieg's campaign has done 50 town halls in the last five weeks statewide and he's visited 25 of the 31 counties that went from Barack Obama in 2012 to Donald Trump in 2016 — but aides say he doesn’t have to win the caucuses to become the nominee.

What they're saying: “In the first four states — but especially in Iowa and New Hampshire — we need to demonstrate that we are viable for Super Tuesday and for the larger primary," senior advisor Michael Halle told reporters at a Bloomberg News roundtable.

Why it matters: Democratic campaigns are already trying to redefine what will constitute a win in Iowa in what looks like a four-way fight coming Monday.

  • This year is the first time we will get raw vote totals for each candidate in Iowa — not just delegate count.
  • That means there could be multiple "winners" coming out of Monday and different ways for campaigns to tout their momentum heading into New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina.
  • "It depends on the spread [of votes] here and in New Hampshire,” said Hari Sevugan, deputy campaign manager. “We're going to have to do well, there's no question about that. But that does not necessarily mean we have to win" in Iowa.
  • “This is a contest about delegates, ultimately," said Sevugan. "We see it not as a series of state contests, but as a series of district-level contests to accumulate delegates because ultimately that is what is going to matter."

The latest: Polls show a close race between Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, Buttigieg and Elizabeth Warren.

  • Buttigieg's closing argument to Iowans has focused on contrasting himself with Sanders and Biden, and reminding voters that he is a Washington outsider.
  • "The data that we see is literally every poll showing Washington experience becoming less and less popular," said Lis Smith, senior advisor to the campaign. "Washington is a symptom of everything that’s wrong."

The bottom line: Winning begets more winning, but watch for the campaigns to highlight a message of momentum and enthusiasm after the caucuses.

Go deeper

The Sanders surge shapes the Iowa caucuses

Data: Axios research; Note: (*) indicates a year where the majority was uncommitted; Chart: Naema Ahmed/Axios

DES MOINES, Iowa — Bernie Sanders' momentum is shaping the final hours of the race to win tonight's Iowa caucuses, forcing his rivals to lower expectations and feeding the Democratic establishment's fears about what a Sanders victory could do to the party.

The state of play: Advisers to Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg are already insisting that Iowa's not everything in advance of possible disappointments tonight. "We view Iowa as the beginning, not the end," Biden adviser Symone Sanders said Sunday.

What to watch for at tonight's Democratic debate

Candidates at the last Democratic debate in Iowa. Photo: Robyn Beck/Getty Images

The biggest story heading into New Hampshire is Pete Buttigieg's meteoric rise, which has the potential to shift the dynamics of the primary field and is rattling his rivals to his left and right.

The state of play: Following his strong showing in Iowa, Buttigieg jumped 12 percentage points in a New Hampshire poll between Monday (the day of the Iowa caucus) and Thursday, and his opponents are saying his name more regularly in their stump speeches throughout the state.

Go deeperArrowUpdated Feb 8, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Iowa debacle haunts 2020 Democrats

Pete Buttigieg in New Hampshire yesterday. Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Pete Buttigieg sees a moment to overtake Joe Biden with an electability message after the scrambled Iowa results left some top Biden supporters distraught.

If the partial results released yesterday by the Iowa Democratic Party had been trumpeted Monday night instead of being delayed by the app snafu, Buttigieg would have been a national sensation.