OPINION: Pete Buttigieg is playing to win


South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg smiles as he greets spectators June 11 outside the IU Auditorium. Buttigieg hosted a dinner Dec. 15 at the Hall Rutherford wine cave in Napa Valley, California, following a fundraiser which later led to some controversy. Alex Deryn

Despite what your Twitter feed might have had you think last month, former mayor Pete Buttigieg’s recent private wine cave fundraiser isn’t the end of the world.

The Buttigieg campaign had a dinner after a fundraiser at the Hall Rutherford wine cave on Dec. 15 in Napa Valley, California. Buttigieg was quickly criticized for this dinner by fellow presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren at the following Thursday’s Democratic presidential debate.

“Billionaires in wine caves should not pick the next president of the United States,” Warren said.

The scene almost sounds like something out of a comic book, with a small group of wealthy donors gathered around an onyx table drinking expensive wine under a Swarovski crystal chandelier.

Rather, this was a rational course of action by the Buttigieg campaign that was blown out of proportion on social media.

Interestingly enough, Warren has her own experience fundraising in wineries. She held a similar fundraiser at the City Winery in Boston while campaigning for a Senate seat in 2018.

Warren and Buttigieg mostly stayed out of each other's way at the Iowa debate on Tuesday, with the exception of Warren criticizing Buttigieg's plan to only eliminate college tuition for students in households earning less than $100,000 per year.

Iowa is critical for Buttigieg, who lost his polling lead in the state this month. One analysis in the New York Times suggests that Iowa has become a vital state for him to win because unlike former Vice President Joe Biden or Sen. Bernie Sanders, a loss in Iowa for Buttigieg would signal the end of the road for his candidacy.

Tuesday’s debate in Des Moines, Iowa, was the ideal moment for a singular Democratic candidate to come out ahead with less than a month before the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary.

This was evident in Buttigieg’s continued challenge to the more progressive plan to make college free for all students, including children of wealthy parents. Klobuchar also showed her moderate democratic arguments by pushing back against a Medicare for all policy, saying the plan doesn’t have enough Democratic support in the Senate.

Warren was preoccupied on the debate stage, though, with a new conflict with Sanders, who she claims told her that a woman couldn't win a presidential election. Both senators appeared uncomfortable with the questions regarding these claims and seemed to want to move on. However, Warren made her case for electability.

"I was the only one who has defeated an incumbent Republican in 30 years," Warren said.

Another topic discussed during Tuesday’s debate is how each candidate has connected with minority voters. With an entirely white group of candidates on stage for the first time in this election, former candidate Secretary Julian Castro’s concerns about the representation of Iowa’s caucuses occurring first and racial representation in the Democratic field are likely to be on viewers’ minds.

Buttigieg has struggled during his campaign so far to capture the widespread support of black Democratic voters. However, a recent endorsement by Waterloo, Iowa, Mayor Quentin Hart may change that. Buttigieg used this endorsement during the debate to challenge claims that his campaign wasn’t reaching out to minorities.

Buttigieg received a tough question on his low support among black voters.

"Is it possible black voters have gotten to know you and have simply decided to choose another candidate?” asked Abby Philipp, a CNN moderator.

The former mayor said the black voters who know him best in South Bend have his back.

His answers in the rest of the debate were strong, especially when discussing his military experience and current tensions regarding the Middle East. However, this question and his less-than-stellar answer seemed to highlight the lack of diverse representation on stage.

The Democratic Party, and specifically Buttigieg, will not be able to succeed this November without the support of black voters. While the final debate before the Iowa caucus largely targeted Iowan voters, it was imperative that the candidates appeal to the more diverse population of the Democratic Party and the U.S. as a whole.

Although it catered to the wealthy elite and not the diverse American population, December’s wine cave fundraiser didn’t signal the end of Buttigieg’s campaign. If he isn’t able to rally support in the coming weeks, though, Iowa may be a different story.

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