When I first heard about South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg running for the presidency, I wondered if he might turn out to be a viable candidate, if still a dark horse. After that, he seemed to largely drop off the radar for a while. (With the exception of some odd commentary on “intergenerational justice.”) But he’s kept himself busy since then, particularly in Iowa, and it seems to be paying off. The latest polling coming out of the Hawkeye State shows that Buttigieg has jumped up into third place and has rounded up enough campaign contributors to qualify for the debates. (The Hill)

South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D) surged into third place in a poll of the Iowa caucus released Sunday.

Eleven percent of likely Democratic Iowa caucus-goers surveyed by Emerson Polling said that they would pick Buttigieg to be their 2020 presidential nominee.

Overall, Buttigieg placed third behind Former Vice President Joe Biden, at 25 percent, and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), at 24 percent.

It’s difficult to attribute this to anything other than good old fashioned retail politicking. Buttigieg has been out on the road, hitting all of the coffee shops, diners and town halls that he can, shaking hands and engaging with the public. And I keep hearing that people find him very engaging in person, as well as being a good listener. He’s also been helped by stories coming from his home town about “Mayor Pete” and his many good deeds helping people in need.

Still, while third place is pretty impressive in such a large field, he’s still trailing both Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders by sizable margins. Those two lead the pack with 25 and 24 percent respectively. Considering that the majority of voters supporting Biden list Sanders as their first alternate and Sanders voters feel the same way about Biden, they’re effectively eating up half of the market at this point. (You can review the full results from Emerson here.)

But things could be far worse for Mayor Pete. Just ask some of the rest of his rivals. He’s basically tied with Kamala Harris, but he’s more than doubling many other names that receive a lot more attention from the national press corps. These include Beto, Klobuchar and Hickenlooper. One of the more comical entries is Kirsten Gillibrand, who was generating a lot of early buzz with the liberal press, but is registering literally zero in Iowa at this point.

So is there really a chance that Pete Buttigieg could pull this off and become the youngest major party nominee ever? We probably shouldn’t get too carried away just yet. The latest national polling numbers out of Fox this weekend still have Mayor Pete at one percent, with Biden opening an even wider lead and nobody else making it out of single digits except Bernie Sanders. There’s a long way to go and anything can still happen, but Buttigieg has a lot of work left in front of him.