The child mayor of South Bend, Indiana has just rocked the 2020 Democratic race in a big way. Obviously demolishing his opponents when it comes to an Iowa ground game, Pete Buttigieg just posted the best poll numbers of his campaign. According to a new CNN/Des Moines Register poll of likely Iowa caucusgoers, Buttigieg is number one with a bullet, leading the field by nine points. This astounding surge puts the mayor in the lead with 25% support, ahead of Elizabeth Warren (16%), Joe Biden (15%), and Bernie Sanders (15%).
Not only have Buttigieg’s numbers improved, it’s clear that he is draining support from his top competitors for the nomination. Warren’s support has deteriorated by six points since the last such poll was taken in September. Support for Biden has slipped by five points. Only Sanders has improved along with Mayor Pete – his numbers rose four points from the last poll.
The rest of the field is mired in the single digits. Sen. Amy Klobuchar has 6% support, which is good enough for a fifth place finish. Cory Booker, Tulsi Gabbard, Tom Steyer, Andrew Yang, and Kamala Harris are tied with 3% support.
A young, gay mayor with little national name-recognition, Buttigieg would seem to be a natural torch-carrier for the far-left wing of the Democratic Party. But with his war veteran credentials and his Christian faith, Mayor Pete has instead staked out camp in the moderate wing – well, as moderate as anyone in this party can get these days. He is looking to provide voters with an alternative to the radical socialist policies of Warren and Sanders, and he is determined to provide a smooth-talking counterpoint to Biden’s bumbling approach. And, as far as we know, Buttigieg’s son never got a cushy job with a Ukrainian energy giant.
On the other hand, it’s one thing for a Democrat to perform well in lily-white Iowa, it’s another to perform well around the country. Democrats need African-American support if they want a prayer of winning the nomination, to say nothing of the presidency. And that’s one area where Buttigieg is struggling badly. Black voters may never be convinced to pull the lever for an openly-gay candidate like Mayor Pete.
“I know a lot of people my age that feel that way,” admitted Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC). “I’m not going to sit here and tell you otherwise. I think everybody knows that’s an issue.”
And it’s not an issue likely to go away anytime soon. If Buttigieg can’t find a way to smooth over the inconvenient fact of his gay marriage, support in New England may be as far as his presidential aspirations goes.