Buttigieg jabs at Sanders in Virginia with eye on Super Tuesday

Greg Nash

Former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg swiped at Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) at a town hall in Virginia on Sunday as he works to boost support for his presidential campaign in the Super Tuesday state.

Appearing at a crowd of nearly 7,000 on a high school football field in Arlington, Buttigieg cast his campaign as an effort to build a big Democratic tent while painting Sanders’s movement as exclusionary and fueled by ideological purists.

“[I]n a few short days we can go one way or the other as a party…. I respect my friend Sen. Sanders. I believe the ideals he talks about are ideals we all share. But I also believe the way we build the movement to defeat Donald Trump is to bring them into our tent and not to call them names online,” Buttigieg said in reference to vocal Sanders supporters who have been accused of going after other 2020 contenders.

“We are also calling out to the Independents and we are excited to see the ranks of what I like the call future former Republicans signing up for this,” he added. “We have to do this together.”

The rebuke, which built on comments hitting the Vermont lawmaker from Saturday, comes the day after a resounding victory for Sanders in Saturday’s Nevada caucuses. Sanders trounced his competition in the Silver State, more than doubling the vote tally of his nearest rival with a coalition powered by Hispanic and younger voters and union members.

The victory cemented Sanders’s status as the primary field’s frontrunner and delegate-leader but further fueled handwringing from centrists that the self-avowed democratic socialist could face electability issues in November.

Buttigieg warned that Sanders could endanger frontline Democrats further down the ballot who would have to answer for their presidential nominee’s progressive stances.

“We had better make sure that we got a nominee at the top of the ticket who cannot just take back the White House but keep the House in the right hands and send [Senate Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) packing,” he said.

“We dare not ignore, we dare not dismiss and we dare not attack those voices in the Democratic Party focused on keeping those seats in the right hands,” he added of House Democrats in swing districts. “Because we’re going to need that to get any of our big, bold ideas done.”   

Buttigieg had ridden a wave of momentum after strong showings in Iowa and New Hampshire but faces questions over his appeal to voters of color after a third-place showing in heavily Hispanic Nevada. 

The Arlington town hall comes less than two weeks before Virginia and 13 other states and territories hold their nominating contest on Super Tuesday, when a third of all pledged delegates will be allocated. Virginia will apportion 99 pledged delegates, the fifth-highest haul on March 3.

Sanders appears set to post strong showings in several of the Super Tuesday contests as Buttigieg and a number of other centrists continue to split up the moderate vote.

Some Virginia voters expressed alarm at the divisions among the moderate candidates, saying Sanders could emerge as the Democratic nominee should the centrist clashes continue. 

“The more we go through these caucuses and primaries, I think a couple of the moderates need to drop out. If we want a moderate coalition to form, Bernie’s just rocking the progressive space, he’s got a contingency of the Democratic voting base that’s really not going to move anytime soon,” said 27-year-old Kameron Gonzalez, who is mulling backing either Buttigieg or Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.). 

“I don’t know,” he added when asked if he’d vote for Sanders in November. “My lean right now is no, but I know that I’m not going to vote for a Republican either way.” 

“I’m unconvinced right now,” John Zeledon, a project manager at Inter-American Development Bank, said of Sanders. “I don’t know if he’s going to be doing well with the electorate…The brand of socialism is kind of a stigma here in the United States and I’m not sure if he’ll do so well in the election.”

However, other attendees said they would vote for any Democrat in November in order to defeat President Trump.

“I’m definitely an anyone-but-Trump voter,” said Meghan Winesett, a Buttigieg backer. “But I’d be really happy to be voting for someone that I really am supporting, so that’s why I’m hoping that Pete can get it done here.”

Tags Amy Klobuchar Bernie Sanders Donald Trump Mitch McConnell Pete Buttigieg

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