Pete Buttigieg’s early success in the Democratic presidential primary has prompted scrutiny and rougher treatment from his rivals and the news media, creating new challenges for the rising star and his campaign.

National media outlets are flooding the phone lines of local activists and politicians in South Bend, Ind., to churn out investigative pieces on Buttigieg’s years as the city’s mayor.

Competing Democratic campaigns have taken aim, engaging with Buttigieg over perceived slights on the campaign trail.

{mosads}After Buttigieg praised Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) this week for tapping into the anti-establishment sentiment that swept the country in 2016, the Sanders camp ripped the mayor for drawing a comparison between supporters of Sanders and President Trump.

“Come on @PeteButtigieg,” tweeted Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), who is Sanders’s national co-chairman. “It is intellectually dishonest to compare Bernie to Trump. Bernie is for giving people healthcare, education, childcare, and more pay. He wants to blow up credentialed elitism — those who reject tuition free college for all.”

Some in Buttigieg’s camp view the flap as evidence they’re on Sanders’s radar.

Instead of ducking the fight, the mayor seemed to up the ante on Wednesday by telling The New York Times that the “novelty” may have worn off the Sanders campaign and questioning whether he could reassemble the same coalition that propelled him through the 2016 primaries.

“I have a hard time seeing the coalition ultimately coming together there,” he said.

Sanders and Vice President Joe Biden, who is expected to enter the Democratic race on Thursday, are seen as the front-runners for the party’s presidential nomination. Buttigieg in the last month has broken into the top tier, however, which promises to bring more attacks from his rivals.

Buttigieg’s allies say he’s weathered the heat with poise so far. They welcome the scrutiny, saying it’s evidence that Buttigieg is being treated as a top contender.

In particular, they’re relishing the attention from the rival campaigns and Republicans, believing Buttigieg has rattled the competition with his fast rise from obscurity.

“It shows they think he’s for real,” said one Democrat who supports Buttigieg.

Republicans have begun to attack Buttigieg, who has won more media attention by publicly feuding with Vice President Pence, a fellow Hoosier who at times has seemed surprised by Buttigieg’s attacks on him.

The conservative super PAC America Rising is filing Freedom of Information Act requests and monitoring Buttigieg’s daily activities with trackers on the ground at his public events.

The Republican National Committee, which is partnering with America Rising, has been filing public records requests with the mayor’s office and digging through Buttigieg’s personal and campaign financial disclosures.

The Great America PAC, a top super PAC supporting Trump’s reelection campaign, is compiling its own dossier on Buttigieg, starting from the early days. An operative from the group has been on the ground in Massachusetts looking into Buttigieg’s time at Harvard.

And the Indiana Republican Party has been tracking Buttigieg since he first ran for statewide office in 2010 and might have the most comprehensive collection of records on him. It ramped up its release of opposition research in the wake of the Buttigieg-Pence feud.

Democrats say the GOP attacks show Republicans think he could be the Democratic nominee.

“Look, there’s no straight lines in a campaign,” said the Democrat who supports Buttigieg. “We’ve been riding a positive wave for weeks now. There are going to be bumps, but to know that Republicans are going after him now, that just means he’s officially arrived.”

Buttigieg has received tougher media scrutiny since rising in the polls.

He moved up the Democratic charts in March with a strong performance at a CNN town hall event, where many were seeing him for the first time.

At a follow-up CNN town hall event this week, Buttigieg had to defend his record as mayor after several outlets, including The Hill, reported on decisions he made that critics say negatively impacted communities of color.

Buttigieg is standing by his decision to demote South Bend’s first-ever African American police chief, who secretly recorded one of his white officers and did not tell the mayor’s office about a federal investigation into the department’s recording practices. There are allegations that the recordings captured white officers on the police force using racist language, angering activists in a town that is a quarter black.

Buttigieg defied a city council subpoena to obtain the tapes, arguing that a judge needs to decide whether the recordings violate federal wiretapping laws.

“I was a little bit slow to understand just how much anguish underlaid the community’s response to this,” Buttigieg said at the town hall. “It was about whether communities of color could trust that their police department has their best interests at heart.”

And Buttigieg acknowledged problems with a program he implemented to raze vacant and abandoned homes in poor parts of South Bend, which some say led to minority families being priced out of their neighborhoods.

“No policy is perfect, and we learned some things the hard way on this one,” Buttigieg said.

Those controversies have drawn attention to Buttigieg’s record on diversity. Rep. André Carson (D-Ind.), who describes himself as friends with Buttigieg, said that’s something the South Bend mayor is working on.

“For him to kind of be at least objective enough to know as a leader he needs more diversity, that includes his team, that includes the folks that work for him, that includes the contracts that he issues, so there’s folks willing to help him with the diversity issues, we just have to have a sit down about it,” Carson said on CNN on Wednesday.

Still, Buttigieg has a knack for winning positive headlines. On Wednesday he went viral on Twitter for responding to a supporter in sign language.

Chris Meagher, a Buttigieg campaign spokesman, said the campaign is looking to stay above the fray.

“We can’t control our competitors’ strategies, but we will continue to focus on getting our hopeful message of generational change out to folks,” Meagher said.

This story was updated at 5:39 p.m.

Tags 2020 campaign 2020 Democratic primary Bernie Sanders Donald Trump Joe Biden Pete Buttigieg Ro Khanna
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