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Buttigieg’s Plan to Stay Alive in the Primaries

Buttigieg can’t seem to attract minority voters to save his political life. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

You’ve may have heard a lot about the Super Tuesday strategies of candidates like front-runner Bernie Sanders and free-spending Michael Bloomberg. You may be aware that Joe Biden’s in pretty good shape across that 14-state landscape, thanks to his perfect name ID and base among minority voters. For what it’s worth, Elizabeth Warren may yet reap dividends from her early organizing efforts in Super Tuesday states despite her recent troubles.

But the forgotten candidate as the calendar speeds along is one of the contest’s early stars, Pete Buttigieg. He finished basically tied with Sanders in Iowa, then ran second in New Hampshire and third in Nevada. He’s second behind Bernie in total delegates won. Yet he approaches Super Tuesday having to scrounge for delegates in limited pockets of the map.

True, unlike Biden and Sanders, Mayor Pete isn’t looking for some pre-Super Tuesday springboard in this weekend’s South Carolina primary. In the most credible late poll of Palmetto State Democrats, from Monmouth, Buttigieg is in a weak fifth place at 6 percent. If he gets any attention on primary night at all, it will probably be to note his continued struggles to secure minority support (Monmouth has him at 2 percent with African-Americans). And that same problem will hamper him in a number of Super Tuesday states with large minority populations (California, Texas, Alabama, Arkansas, North Carolina, and Virginia among them).

The Buttigieg campaign does not have the resources to carpet-bomb rural areas like he did in Iowa and Nevada. So it’s having to be very selective in how at approaches Super Tuesday, as Politico reports:

Despite a brutal Super Tuesday map unlikely to hand him any statewide wins, the former South Bend mayor is looking to reinforce his claim as a Democratic alternative to Bernie Sanders by racking up delegates in individual congressional districts on Super Tuesday …

Buttigieg is focusing on selected districts in smaller media markets throughout the country to rack up delegates, from Austin, Texas and its suburbs to San Diego, northern Maine, and other locales where Democrats flipped House seats in 2018.

These smaller (and hence less expensive) media markets are also in areas less dominated by minority voters than others. Pete is playing the bad hand dealt to him:

Buttigieg doesn’t have the money to compete more broadly across the 14 Super Tuesday states, like Bernie Sanders and especially Mike Bloomberg … He’s not wading into more favorable demographic territory, like Joe Biden in the other Southern states coming up. And he’s not getting the benefit of home-state primaries on March 3 like Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren.

Hence the high likelihood that he’ll get skunked when it comes to statewide primaries. FiveThirtyEight’s projection of Super Tuesday delegate hauls based on the premise of a modest Biden win in South Carolina shows Buttigieg picking up 69 delegates on March 3, just over half of Elizabeth Warren’s 136 (though a lot more than Amy Klobuchar’s 38).

The calendar gets a bit better for Pete after Super Tuesday; March 10 features several western and midwestern states where he might do well if he doesn’t run out of money. On March 17 Illinois and Ohio beckon. But his own Indiana doesn’t vote until May 5. And his hopes of becoming a rallying figure for anti-Sanders moderates took a big hit with Joe Biden’s revival in Nevada and likely win in South Carolina.

So while a Buttigieg path to the nomination was never clear, and you can argue he has already massively exceeded any reasonable expectations, it’s looking a bit grim for the 38-year-old former mayor right now. Say what you will about the three old men at the top of the Democratic national polls right now. Each of them in his own way has demonstrated a diverse base of support. Pete Buttigieg really hasn’t, and that may be the death of his 2020 candidacy.

Buttigieg’s Plan to Stay Alive in the Primaries