As far as ground games go in the early primary states, the two strongest operations come from the campaigns of Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg. Warren isn’t so much of a surprise as is Buttigieg.
A piece in the New York Times tallied up the numbers. Warren and Buttigieg have more campaign offices in the early states than any of the other Democrats running for the 2020 presidential nomination. Both Warren and Buttigieg have a total of 47 field offices. Both are going all-in in Iowa, with Joe Biden a close third in Iowa. In the rest of the early primary states, though, Biden is far less aggressive.
Ms. Warren and Mr. Buttigieg have broken away from the Democratic pack with the most field offices overall in the four early states, and they are making an expensive bet that organizational strength on the ground will catapult them to crucial top finishes in Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses. Their ground games give them more workspaces for organizers and volunteers. More organizers lead to more in-person contact with potential supporters in every nook and cranny of a state.
And in Iowa, where picking a candidate is akin to a religious conversion following extended evangelism from a supporter, a strong and broad organization is often the backbone of a winning campaign.
We know that Elizabeth Warren is battling Joe Biden for the lead in most of the polls right now, while Bernie Sanders is solidly in third place. What isn’t noticed so much is that Buttigieg is quietly advancing and is in the top spot in the second tier of candidates. Any momentum that Kamala Harris saw after the first nationally televised debate has completely fallen away. She’s proven to be a poor candidate. In the RCP averaging Monday morning, Biden is at 27.8%, Warren is at 26.0%, and Sanders rounds out the first tier of candidates at 15.2%. The second tier shows Buttigieg at 5% and Harris at 4.5%. Andrew Yang is at 2.7%. Then in what I think of as the third tier (bottom dwellers) are all the rest, led by O’Rourke, who is at 1.8%.
Presidential elections are not national, though, and it is the numbers in the state polls that provide a better picture of what is happening on the ground. Of the top four candidates in Iowa, for example, Warren leads at 22.7% and Biden is at 19.3%. Sanders is at 16.0% while Buttigieg has quietly risen to 12%. For comparison within the second tier, Harris is at 5.3% in Iowa. Buttigieg now has the largest operation of any of the candidates in Iowa. He has 20 field offices and a staff that’s hovering around 130. Buttigieg’s Iowa state director says, “We’re building an organization to win in February because this is a now or never moment for our country.”
Buttigieg may be trying to moderate his campaign rhetoric, too. Though he is still definitely in the far left side of politics, he is less so than others. For instance, in an interview on CNN, he threw Robert Francis O’Rourke under the bus for his crazy position that churches should lose their tax-exempt status if they don’t embrace same-sex marriage and other parts of the LGBTQ agenda. He told Jake Tapper, “I’m not sure he understood the implications of what he was saying.”
Pete Buttigieg tells @jaketapper on #SOTU stripping churches of tax exempt status over LGBTQ rights “is just going to deepen the divisions that we're already experiencing—at a moment when we're actually seeing more and more people…moving in the right direction on LGBTQ rights.” https://t.co/47YNDps2RA
— DJ Judd (@DJJudd) October 13, 2019
If or when Joe Biden leaves the race, Buttigieg might be in a position to pick up the support of his supporters. When or if Sanders leaves the race, though I think he will once again say in until the last minute unless he has another health event, Warren is the natural home for his supporters. What if it all comes down to a Buttigieg and Warren contest by the time we get to the convention? Within the party of identity politics, does a gay, white man in his thirties garner more support than a 71-year-old white woman who lied about her own personal biography for personal profit? One would be the first gay president and one would be the first woman president. Decisions, decisions.
Something both will have to work on is capturing more support from black voters. In the case of Mayor Pete, he has zero support from them. Buttigieg is in Ohio today and rolling out endorsements from state officials and officeholders.
Warren and Buttigieg are the only ones with field offices in Republican-leaning rural areas that swung from Obama to Trump in 2016 in Iowa. Biden’s campaign is concentrating on areas strong in union support. Buttigieg drew a crowd of around 700 people on Saturday night in Des Moines. Buttigieg raised $19.1 million in third-quarter fundraising so he has the resources to go full-tilt in the early states to challenge the top tier if he doesn’t make any big mistakes. It’s still early yet, of course, and anything can happen. After starting to count him out, I’m going back to keeping an eye on him.