Mayor Pete vs Spartacus: Buttigieg rises as Booker fades

Why is Pete Buttigieg getting all the attention while Cory Booker continues to slide in the polls? The two candidates have some mayoral experience to tout, as well as similar resumes, yet it is the guy from nowhere who is winning the attention of the media. Booker’s supporters are none too pleased.

Mayor Pete is a small city mayor in the midwest. Cory Booker was the Mayor of Newark before winning his Senate seat. Both men are on the younger end of the candidate a roster (Buttigieg is 37 years old, Booker is a youngish 50) that is topped by two septuagenarians. Each is a former Rhodes Scholar. Yet, it is Pete Buttigieg who is getting all the media attention.

Booker supporters are beginning to question the fairness of it all as if fairness has relevance in politics. It just sounds whiny but here we are. Is the media giving Buttigieg a boost as they did with Donald Trump in 2016? I think it’s clear that Buttigieg is still riding a flavor-of-the-month wave but he’s still not risen to the number one or number two spot in the polls, which Trump did rather quickly in 2016.

“I guess I’m a little gun-shy because I remember what happened four years ago when all of the attention was based on this guy from New York who happened to be a billionaire by the name of Donald Trump,” said state Rep. Jerry Govan, a senior legislator who serves as chairman of the South Carolina Legislative Black Caucus.

“Nobody controls who the media covers but the media,” he continued. “It’s important for them to get it right this time. If folks got a good message, that message deserves to be covered. I think the American people deserve the opportunity to hear the truth, to have a clear understanding of where people stand on the issues that they care about, and the media’s the only entity that can do that, and that’s its job.”

It’s a legitimate concern. The favoritism that was shown to Donald Trump in 2016 on cable news shows, in particular, allowed him to rise and remain at the top of that huge field of candidates. All Trump had to do was phone-in to a cable show and he was put on the air. He didn’t even have to go into the network’s studio. Mayor Pete doesn’t quite have that kind of advantage but he is benefitting from excessive coverage. Much like Trump, Buttigieg knows how to find a topic and go with the publicity. In Buttigieg’s case, he concocted a feud between himself and Vice-President Pence where none existed.

“I think Cory is just as accomplished,” said a senior Democrat in South Carolina, who requested anonymity to speak candidly about the subject. “And I’ve heard grumblings from a number of people [who have asked], ‘Why hasn’t he gotten that type of exposure?’”

Here’s the thing, though. The Democrats, the party of identity politics, have several candidates who would be “historic” picks if chosen as the party’s nominee. If chosen and elected, Booker would be the first former Mayor to be elected President but not the first black man. Julian Castro would be the first Hispanic. Mayor Pete is capitalizing on his sexuality and that, I think, is making the difference. Not to put too fine of a point on it but we’ve already had a black man from the U.S. Senate who won the presidency. America hasn’t had an openly gay president.

It must be causing second thoughts of other Democrats who are or were mayors. What if Mitch Landrieu (New Orleans) or Eric Garcetti (Los Angeles), both touted as rising stars at one time or the other in Democrat politics had decided to run? You have to assume that both are asking themselves that question now. Buttigieg is more than a mayor, though.

“He’s not carrying the flag for mayors,” said Rebecca Katz, a progressive consultant who advised Cynthia Nixon in her primary campaign against New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo last year. “Mayor is part of his qualification, [but] he’s running as a millennial, he’s running as a veteran, he’s running a historic candidacy as the first LGBTQ candidate. So there’s a lot of things that make Buttigieg special.”

Still, she said, “I think when mayors, when other elected officials look at his actual qualifications, it’s easy to see how they could look in the mirror and say, ‘Why not me?’”

To add to the Buttigieg story, he’s picking up some top campaign people. Wednesday it was announced that Obama’s former ad-maker and his firm has signed on to Mayor Pete’s campaign. Larry Grisolano is credited with helping Obama rise to the top in 2008. He’s also an alum of Joe Biden’s 1988 presidential campaign.

Larry Grisolano and John Del Cecato of AKPD Message and Media, are joining Buttigieg’s team, Grisolano confirmed to POLITICO on Wednesday.

The South Bend, Ind., mayor’s presidential campaign is also bringing on Tyler Law, a former Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee national press secretary who handles communications strategy for AKPD, and pollster Katie Connolly of Benenson Strategy Group.

Grisolano, who also worked on Joe Biden’s 1988 presidential campaign and was the director of paid media for Obama’s presidential efforts, said he had talked to numerous campaigns about the coming presidential election before settling on Buttigieg.

“I thought about a number of candidates. This is the one that ended up feeling like a right fit for the firm and a sense of what the country is looking for and what we need,” Grisolano said.

Meanwhile, polls show that Buttigieg has staying power in the top tier of candidates, though everyone is far behind Joe Biden at this point. Real Clear Politics shows him at 6.8% nationwide and Cory Booker is stuck at the bottom with 2.3%. The question remains as it has been from the beginning. Can anyone knock Joe Biden out of the top position?