Buttigieg elbows Warren and Sanders on health care — and Biden tooOctober 12, 2019
The positioning and rhetoric shows that Buttigieg betting there is an opportunity for him to pick off voters who might like Biden yet would be happy with a candidate further to the left — just not as far left as Sanders and Warren, taking advantage of the big ideological space between the two senators at one end of the Democratic primary and the former vice president at the other end.
“There’s a lot of voters and a lot of caucus-goers who identify as progressives, but aren’t as far to the left as Senator Sanders and Senator Warren and wonder how we’re going to pay for all of the programs that they keep saying we need to do,” Buttigieg’s Iowa state director, Brendan McPhillips, said on a recent conference call with donors, according to an audio recording obtained by POLITICO. “And Pete is setting himself up as a more electable, viable progressive — I guess, pragmatic progressive, if you will.”
Buttigieg expanded in the interview, saying that just because he’s not lining up with Warren and Sanders doesn’t mean he isn’t putting forward “bold” plans.
“The reason that I’ve pushed off both candidates running to my left and some of the ideological centrists is that I believe we not only can, but must, be bold and unify at the same time,” Buttigieg said.
In the conference call, McPhillips told the assembled donors that Biden is leading the primary field “in large part due to familiarity. People know who he is,” McPhillips said. “But as the campaign continues people are starting to see some of his flaws, some of his missteps.”
The contrast with Biden makes increasing sense for Buttigieg. The South Bend mayor, believing that his core campaign pitch transcends ideology, is competing in some way with every one of his top rivals ahead of the Iowa caucuses. But Buttigieg also said he believes that he is unlikely to win voters fixated on Medicare for All and the candidates who back it, meaning he needs to peel away support elsewhere to grow in the Democratic primary.
“I think we have to make the case, but I also think that if you have decided that your single criterion for the nominee is you want the left-most candidate, then you’ve already got your candidate,” Buttigieg said. “That’s not going to be me.”
Evan Bayh, the former Indiana governor and senator who has participated in a campaign event for Biden and is planning on attending a Buttigieg event, said Buttigieg is trying to chart a course through the middle of the primary.
He’s “saying, look, we need to do better because the challenge is greater” than the current system can handle, Bayh said, “but we can’t go so far to make it politically suicidal which banning private healthcare would entail. And that’s the ground he’s trying to find. For lack of a better term, [he’s] trying to be a progressive but pragmatic about it.”
But Jim Messina, the campaign manager for former President Barack Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign, said drawing…