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Is Pete Buttigieg Peaking Too Early in Iowa?

Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

When South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg invested a big chunk of his impressive 2017 fundraising haul in building a strong organization (more than 100 staffers and 20 field offices, according to CNN) in the first-in-the-nation caucus state, he was gambling on an early breakthrough. It could be paying off: Multiple polls are showing him running first in Iowa.

If there was any doubt Mayor Pete’s having a moment there, it was dispelled this weekend by the latest gold-standard Iowa Poll from Ann Selzer for the Des Moines Register, CNN, and Mediacom. Selzer shows Buttigieg at 25 percent among likely caucusgoers, with a healthy lead over Elizabeth Warren at 16 percent and both Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders at 15 percent. Mayor Pete was only at 9 percent in Selzer’s last poll in September. And his internals look good: His favorability/unfavorability rating is a best-in-the-field 72/16, with 42 percent rating him “very favorably.” He’s second behind only Warren in second-choice support, and is nicely positioned ideologically, with 63 percent rating him “about right” instead of “too liberal” (7 percent) or “too conservative” (13 percent). By contrast, 53 percent said Bernie Sanders was “too liberal” and 38 percent said the same of Warren, while 28 percent labeled Biden as “too conservative.”

Buttigieg also led in a recent Monmouth poll in Iowa, and was functionally tied with the other members of the Big Four in others, and now leads the RealClearPolitics polling average for the state. If there’s any downside in his Iowa polling it’s that he may be peaking too early; a potential Biden-alternative centrist, Amy Klobuchar, is gradually moving up in the rankings. (She’s fifth in the Selzer poll at 6 percent; no one else has more than 3 percent.)

If Iowa is at the moment looking like Pete Country, his standing is significantly weaker in other early states. He’s at 14 percent in the RCP averages in Iowa’s kissing-cousin and rival, New Hampshire, and at around 7 percent in Nevada and South Carolina. And best we can tell from available crosstabs, Buttigieg is still registering negligible support from minority voters, which is no big handicap in Iowa and New Hampshire, but begins to matter a lot more the minute after New Hampshire ends. A new Fox News poll of Nevada shows Mayor Pete with 2 percent of the nonwhite vote there. (He’s behind Andrew Yang and Tulsi Gabbard among nonwhite voters.) And a Monmouth poll of South Carolina a few weeks ago placed Buttigieg’s support among the black voters who represent well over half the primary electorate at one percent. Even if he wins Iowa, he won’t get much of a bounce beyond New Hampshire until that begins to change.

Still, at the moment you’d rather be him than, say, Kamala Harris or Cory Booker, who also invested heavily in an Iowa organization but are both at 3 percent in Selzer’s poll, and who trail Buttigieg in Nevada and aren’t doing much better than him in South Carolina despite being African-Americans themselves. If, as is quite possibly the case, only four candidates survive Iowa in any kind of viable shape, at this point it looks like it will be Warren, Biden, Sanders — and Pete Buttigieg.

Is Pete Buttigieg Peaking Too Early in Iowa?