Buttigieg leans into mayoral record as rivals go on the attack

Buttigieg leans into mayoral record as rivals go on the attack
© Greg Nash

DOVER, N.H. — Pete ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul ButtigiegBiden looks to shore up lead in S.C. Vulnerable Democrats brace for Sanders atop ticket The Hill's Campaign Report: Gloves off in South Carolina MORE is leaning into his experience as the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., in his final pitch to voters in New Hampshire, even as rivals and critics attack his record on race relations and question whether the former mayor of a mid-sized, Midwestern town is up to the task of being the next commander in chief.

In speeches to energized crowds of supporters across the Granite State, Buttigieg is arguing that the best way to defeat President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump passes Pence a dangerous buck Overnight Health Care — Presented by American Health Care Association — Trump taps Pence to lead coronavirus response | Trump accuses Pelosi of trying to create panic | CDC confirms case of 'unknown' origin | Schumer wants .5 billion in emergency funds Trump nods at reputation as germaphobe during coronavirus briefing: 'I try to bail out as much as possible' after sneezes MORE is to nominate a candidate from the industrial Midwest who can relate to the working class voters that abandoned Democrats in 2016.

And Buttigieg is making the case that mayors have to deal with the real issues impacting voters’ daily lives, in contrast to the Washington politicians whom he describes as out of touch with the concerns of ordinary Americans.

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“Mayors have to get things done,” Buttigieg said to a crowd of more than 1,800 who gathered to see him at a middle school gymnasium in Nashua on Sunday. “That problem-solving instinct that mayors have is just one reason why we have to start getting Washington to look like our best-run cities and towns, instead of the other way around.”

That message appears to be resonating in New Hampshire — Buttigieg has surged to the top of the polls, catching Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersDNC warns campaigns about cybersecurity after attempted scam Overnight Health Care — Presented by American Health Care Association — Trump taps Pence to lead coronavirus response | Trump accuses Pelosi of trying to create panic | CDC confirms case of 'unknown' origin | Schumer wants .5 billion in emergency funds Biden looks to shore up lead in S.C. MORE (I-Vt.), who won the state by more than 20 points in 2016. At each stop in the final days of his Granite State tour, Buttigieg has been met with overflow crowds and lines of hundreds of people waiting to see him in person.

But Buttigieg’s rivals are seeking to turn his mayoral experience into a liability for him in the hours before voters head to the polls here.

Former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden looks to shore up lead in S.C. Hillicon Valley: Dems cancel surveillance vote after pushback to amendments | Facebook to ban certain coronavirus ads | Lawmakers grill online ticketing execs | Hacker accessed facial recognition company's database Vulnerable Democrats brace for Sanders atop ticket MORE, who is battling Buttigieg to be the party’s centrist standard-bearer, has been starkly warning that the 38-year-old is too inexperienced and will be in over his head if Democrats nominate him.

Biden has said that the party would be taking a great “risk” with Buttigieg, who needed only about 11,000 votes to be elected mayor of South Bend for his first term.

The Biden campaign also released a mocking new digital ad putting their experience side by side. The point of the ad was to drive home the idea that the former vice president dealt with the important matters of running the country while Buttigieg had the much simpler task of managing a city of about 100,000.

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“Joe Biden helped save the auto industry, which revitalized the economy of the Midwest and led the passage and implementation of the Recovery Act, saving our economy from a depression,” the narrator says in the ad. “Pete Buttigieg revitalized the sidewalks of downtown South Bend by laying out decorative brick.”

The ad infuriated the Buttigieg campaign, leading to accusations that the former vice president was marginalizing the experiences of voters in the American heartland.

“Americans in small rural towns, in industrial communities and yes, in pockets of our country's biggest cities, are tired of being reduced to a punchline by Washington politicians and ready for somebody to take their voice to the American capital,” Buttigieg said to the crowd of about 12,000 who gathered at the Southern New Hampshire University arena in Manchester on Saturday night to hear from all of the candidates.

Buttigieg is also facing fire from critics in South Bend who are drawing attention to his record on race, underscoring his most glaring weakness.

Buttigieg has struggled mightily to attract support from voters of color, which could be a major issue for him once the calendar turns to more diverse states.

Henry Davis Jr., a black member of the South Bend City Council, had a viral Twitter moment this weekend when he attacked Buttigieg for turning a blind eye to “systemic racism” in the police department.

Buttigieg has been dogged by his decision to demote South Bend’s first African American police chief, who secretly recorded white police officers he suspected were making racist remarks.

“Pete Buttigieg looked like a deer in headlights last night when talking about systemic racism in the South Bend Police,” Davis tweeted. “He tolerated it, he perpetuated it, and last night he lied to millions of Americans about it.”

Buttigieg has characterized Davis as a political rival he defeated in the governor’s race and he has expressed regret about how he handled the demotion. Davis has a long history of criticizing Buttigieg. In 2017, he implied that Buttigieg came out as gay to benefit his political career.

But there are other racial controversies as well.

Buttigieg faced protests back home last year after a white police officer shot and killed a black man. The officer says the victim approached him with a knife, but the policeman did not have his camera on at the time of the shooting.

And Buttigieg faced questions at the New Hampshire debate Friday about a rise in arrests of black people for marijuana possession during his time as mayor.

“One of the strategies that our community adopted was to target — when there were cases where there was gun violence or gang violence that was slaughtering so many in our community, burying teenagers, disproportionately black teenagers, we adopted a strategy that said that drug enforcement would be targeted in cases where there was a connection to the most violent group or gang connected to a murder,” Buttigieg said.

“These things are all connected,” he added. “But that’s the point. So are all of the things that need to change in order for us to prevent violence and remove the effects of systemic racism, not just from criminal justice, but from our economy, from health, from housing and from our democracy itself.”

The moderator then turned to Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenBiden looks to shore up lead in S.C. Hillicon Valley: Dems cancel surveillance vote after pushback to amendments | Facebook to ban certain coronavirus ads | Lawmakers grill online ticketing execs | Hacker accessed facial recognition company's database Push for national popular vote movement gets boost from conservatives MORE (D-Mass.) to ask her if that answer was adequate.

“No,” Warren responded.

NBC’s Chuck ToddCharles (Chuck) David ToddTrailing Democrats tout strength with black voters ahead of South Carolina Clyburn says Democrats spent 'too much time on Bloomberg' in Nevada debate The Democratic nominee won't be democratically chosen MORE pressed Buttigieg extensively on his record on race on Sunday, asking him to respond to criticism from those in South Bend who said he’s been tone deaf or absent in addressing the issues that impact people of color.

“Is the record mixed? Of course it is,” Buttigieg said. “Because the reality is so tough and so complex, and we had a lot of issues to deal with in my eighth year, just as we did in my first year. But no one can say that we were not intentional and that we do not have results to show for it.”

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Buttigieg noted that he appointed the first African American top lawyer for the city and helped the first citywide African American woman get elected.

He said that he implemented bias training within the South Bend Police Department and led an initiative for more transparency in reporting cases about use of force.

“This is my point,” Buttigieg said. “We actually have to deal with these issues on the ground. From racial justice in policing to economic empowerment … we have faced these issues, rolled up our sleeves and gotten a real, measurable track record of results.”