Monmouth University is out with a poll of likely Democratic caucus-goers in Iowa. There are no surprises at the very top. Joe Biden leads with a hefty 27 percent and Bernie Sanders is next with 16 percent. These are the two best known members of the likely field and they are prime representatives of the Party’s two wings — establishment and hard-leftist.
In third place, though, stands a relative unknown who belongs to neither wing. He’s Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana. At 9 percent, he’s ahead of Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren (both at 7 percent), Beto O’Rourke (6 percent), Amy Klobuchar (4 percent) and Cory Booker (3 percent). Only a month ago, according to Politico, a poll taken for CNN and the Des Moines Register showed Buttigieg with only 1 percent support.
There’s more good news for “Mayor Pete.” His name recognition is much lower than that of his rivals. 24 percent of those surveyed said they haven’t heard of him, compared to 3 percent who haven’t heard of Warren and 7 percent who haven’t heard of O’Rourke. 10 percent said they haven’t heard of Harris and 11 percent said this of Booker. (All Iowa Democrats, it seems, have heard of Biden and Sanders.)
Accordingly, Buttigieg has more room to grow than his rivals do. And if, for some reason, Biden doesn’t enter, Buttigieg, as one of the less radical contenders in the field, will probably have a decent shot at picking up a goodly number of the former vice president’s supporters — assuming the current trend in his favor continues.
The Monmouth poll of Iowa Democrats largely mirrors a very recent poll of Dems in New Hampshire, at least insofar as Buttigieg is concerned. That survey, by St. Anselm College, also placed him in third place with 11 percent support. How Buttigieg plays in states with larger minority populations remains to be seen.
It’s not difficult to understand Buttigieg’s appeal, though. He’s young (age 37). He’s got an identity politics niche (gay). He has a reasonably compelling life story.
In addition, unlike most the rest of the field, he’s run a government. Biden, Warren, Harris, O’Rourke, and Klobuchar can’t say that. Bernie Sanders was once the mayor of Burlington, Vermont, but that was 30 years ago. Cory Booker is the only other candidate at or near the top tier with recent chief executive experience.
Such experience in itself may not matter all that much to Democratic voters. But Buttigieg is a very hands-on mayor. This approach makes for heartwarming stories that some voters will eat up.
Perhaps most importantly, Buttigieg comes across as more thoughtful and less bound by leftist ideology than his rivals. For example, he presents himself as a devout Episcopalian who is working to bridge what he sees as a growing gap between religious Americans and the Democratic Party. He’s also supportive of Israel.
Thus, Buttigieg has potential appeal to the less leftist half of the Democratic constituency. Couple this with appeal to the young and to LGTB voters (at least those who don’t care what dating service he once used), and I can envisage Buttigieg making a strong go of it, especially if Biden doesn’t enter or enters and crashes.
It’s probably too early to read as much into polls as I have just done. The Iowa caucuses are almost ten months away.
However, to Pete Buttigieg this probably means he has 10 more months to sell himself to caucus-goers and to build on the momentum he’s beginning to generate. His is a campaign worth keeping an eye on, I think.