Awkward: Mayor Pete has his "please clap" moment in Iowa

Silence is the last thing a candidate wants when he or she expects when pausing for a moment of enthusiastic approval from an audience. None of them want a “please clap” moment, yet those moments happen. Pete Buttigieg experienced his moment in Iowa this week.

Mayor Pete is making the most of the time that frontrunners like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, along with Amy Klobuchar find themselves tied up in Washington with the impeachment trial. During a town hall event in Iowa Buttigieg spoke of the need for “better values” in government. He’s looking for a “sense of hope”, too. Whatever he meant by his rather strange message, it wasn’t getting through to his audience.

“By having better hands guided by better values on those pulleys and levers of American government,” Buttigieg told the crowd. “So I’m going to look to you to spread that sense of hope to those that you know.”

The audience didn’t spread anything but dead silence for Buttigieg’s remarks. You could have heard a pin drop. His plea to the crowd was “Come on!”

Who among us doesn’t remember Jeb Bush’s awkward “Please clap” moment in New Hampshire in 2016? Even after the spectacle of dragging his elderly mom, Bush family matriarch Barbara Bush through snow-covered streets with the help of her walker, New Hampshire voters just really weren’t that into him. The moment was one of those that makes everyone chuckle because politicians tend to take themselves so seriously. A few humbling moments along the way are probably good for their egos.

I hear pundits say on cable television shows that Mayor Pete is drawing the biggest crowds in Iowa and that they enthusiastically welcome him. This awkward moment may be an indication that with the Iowa caucuses so close – just eleven days away – voter fatigue is setting in. No one would blame Iowans if their eyes are starting to glaze over and their minds tuning out to the constant stream of presidential hopefuls that descend upon their state.

There is an interesting piece from Forbes online that shows some troubling results for Mayor Pete. Looking at the national polls, it is clear that his star is dimming. Once looked upon, at least for a short time, as a fresh new face and the hope of the next generation of progressives, he now struggles to gain traction even with younger audiences. The inaugural Forbes Under 30 Voters Survey, powered by Zogby, doesn’t offer up any good news for Buttigieg’s path forward. Not only is his support fading but there doesn’t appear to be any room for growth. His fellow Millennials aren’t supporting him – they are going for the four septuagenarians in the race. The 38-year-old candidate isn’t catching on with his own peers.

Given the chance to support the first major openly gay presidential candidate, someone who would be the youngest elected president in American history, the 650 likely Democratic voters we surveyed, all age 18 to 29, placed him in a virtual tie at the bottom on the primary pack, at 3%. The top four preferred candidates of Under 30 Democrats, according to our survey: Senator Bernie Sanders (32%), former Vice President Joe Biden (16%), Senator Elizabeth Warren (9%) and New York City’s billionaire former mayor, Mike Bloomberg (9%). All of them are white and in their 70s.

Even worse for his chances, only 5% of the poll respondents would consider Buttigieg as their second choice. Sanders, Biden, Warren, and Bloomberg get those votes, too. Clearly, Buttigieg has hit a rough patch after riding high as the number one or number two candidate in the Iowa polls not long ago.

The Zogby poll shows that younger voters still prefer Bernie, just as they did in 2016.

So what happened to a candidate seemingly tailored to excite young voters? “Sanders seems to have captivated these cohorts, says John Zogby, founder and senior partner of John Zogby Strategies. “He has the name recognition from 2016 and his message is direct on college tuition, minimum wage, the environment and health care. Pete is not as well-known nor has he defined his candidacy in generational terms.”

The biggest problem I’ve seen from Buttigieg is that while he entered the race as a choice for more moderate Democrat voters, he quickly began to sound more like Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders than Joe Biden. Why should voters choose Buttigieg with such limited experience when they can choose an experienced candidate who is saying all the right things to get their vote? Buttigieg hasn’t really fleshed out a reason for his candidacy as far as distinctive policies go. On paper, he looks like the perfect candidate to capture the support of young voters and deliver a historic upset as the youngest presidential candidate ever but that hasn’t happened in reality. Just 8% of Biden supporters would consider Buttigieg as a second choice – 41% say they would go to Sanders instead. This seems to be what we are seeing in Iowa this week, and in New Hampshire, too. Biden and Sanders are fighting it out for a first place in the polls in both of those early states. Sanders, for the first time, is leading over Biden in a national poll according to the latest CNN poll.

Buttigieg is raising his name recognition and that will be a boost for future campaigns. He may even be on a shortlist of vice-presidential choices if the Democrat candidate is a woman, though I don’t think either of those two things will happen. It looks like a re-run of the 2016 Democrat primary coming to the forefront now. Biden is the Hillary candidate for the establishment wing of the party and Sanders is the socialist that the progressives looking for a revolution want to win. We know how that turned out last time around.

I’ll end with this wild mash-up of Mayor Pete and Jeb!