With the number of days until the caucuses down to single digits, Pete Buttigieg is using his time in front of Iowans to draw sharper contrasts between himself and the other leading Democratic candidates.
During a three-county swing Tuesday, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, was asked how his supporters should respond when challenged by fans of other candidates, particularly Sen. Bernie Sanders.
At the YMCA in Ottumwa, a 15-year-old asked Buttigieg why people who support Sanders’ “Medicare for All” health care proposal should side with him instead.
“Here’s my message to progressives: It’s that I would be the most progressive president we’ve had in a half-century,” Buttigieg said. “It’s just that I don’t measure the boldness of an idea by how many people it puts off and how much controversy it generates.”
Buttigieg defended his approach to health insurance, branded by the campaign as “Medicare for All Who Want It,” telling the crowd of about 140 that his proposal “trusts you to decide” whether to enroll in a government-sponsored plan or continue with private insurance.
“It’s a real difference, it’s an important difference in the design of our policies, for sure. But if what we’re focusing on is how it affects our everyday lives, it solves the problem with less money and, I think, a lot less heartache,” Buttigieg said.
In November, the Des Moines Register/CNN/Mediacom Iowa Poll found 36% of likely Democratic caucus-goers supported a health care system that eliminated private insurance in favor of a Medicare-like government program. A majority, 54%, favored a public option buy-in or expanding the Affordable Care Act’s reach.
Before Buttigieg’s event kicked off in Ottumwa, a woman expressed similar concern over whether Sanders was too liberal to win a general election matchup against President Donald Trump
“I don’t think he’d stand up well to Trump,” said Charlene Buck, of Ottumwa. “Plus, I want new blood. Bernie’s ideas are OK; I think they might be a little too extreme, too fast for the country.”
Today’s town hall in Ottumwa was the first event Buck had attended this caucus cycle, but she had her mind set on Buttigieg for a while.
“I think he’d be the best to stand up to Trump’s bullies,” she said, noting Sen. Elizabeth Warren would be her second-choice candidate if Buttigieg was not viable in her precinct.
Darwin Downing of Osceola, in southern Iowa, also saw Buttigieg for the first time on Tuesday, saying at the Clarke County fairgrounds he was “looking for somebody different.”
“He’s young, he’s moderate, he’s got some great ideas,” said Downing. “He’s not way over here on the left side that thinks government should pay for everything. I believe in, you get up in the morning, you put your shoes on and you go to work, you earn your pay.”
During the question-and-answer portion of the town hall in Osceola, a man in the front row asked how he could sway “hard core progressives” to support Buttigieg on caucus night instead of Sanders.
“It’s OK to talk about why we think we’ve got the best campaign relative to our competitors,” Buttigieg said. “The focus that I’m trying to bring, again, is on this idea that we don’t have to choose between what we think is right for the country and how we think we’re going to win. All that actually comes together in the ideas that we’ve put forward.”
Though campaigns have declined to run ads attacking their fellow Democrats, in recents weeks there have been clashes on the campaign trail, including a personal drama between Sanders and Warren over whether a woman could defeat Trump and between Sanders and Joe Biden centered on Biden’s views of Social Security.
Buttigieg largely has stayed above the bickering, save for the Dec. 19 debate when his high-dollar fundraisers were called into question.
By Elizabeth Meyer