INDEPENDENCE, Iowa – Former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg began making his closing arguments to Iowa voters in recent weeks while leading senators in the state remain trapped in Washington for the ongoing impeachment trial.
The Senate proceedings are expected to end Sunday, but have kept Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota off the campaign trail, opening the door to Buttigieg, former Vice President Joe Biden, and tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang to make their case to voters in the absence of three primary competitors with swelling support.
While Buttigieg’s poll numbers have fallen from a comfortable frontrunner status in the state just a month ago, many voters remain undecided going into next week’s contest. About half of likely caucusgoers in the state reported they were still persuadable to one candidate or another, according to a Monmouth University poll released Wednesday.
Speaking to voters an hour’s drive north of Cedar Rapids, Buttigieg made his case why he’s the best out of the dozen candidates still in the race to take on President Donald Trump this fall. Approximately a dozen Iowans told The Federalist at the event that they have yet to decide on a candidate with four days left until caucus day.
Iowa pastor Paul Evans said he felt paralyzed by the number of choices in the race and was concerned about Buttigieg’s lack of government experience to run the country.
“He’s been mayor of a town. He’s not served a national office or a statewide office of any kind. I don’t know what experience he’s going to bring to being president,” Evans said. “The problem is, at this point in time we do have a very good slate of candidates. It’s hard to pick one that’s going to be the one that you want when you have that big a slate.”
Buttigieg’s remarks at Thursday’s town hall did little to address Evans’ concerns about his youth and inexperience, and remained largely focused on talking points related to public policy.
At the event, Buttigieg slammed the Trump administration’s aggressive policy with Iran, reaffirmed his commitment to combat climate change, and charged Education Secretary Besty DeVos with not believing in public education.
“The next Secretary of Education ought to be someone that believes in public education,” Buttigieg said.
When Buttigieg did discuss his lack of experience in higher office, he attempted to spin the popular criticism to his own advantage to ease concerns of voters who might back other candidates with longer government resumes.
“When people say, what makes you think you could go [be president] when you’re a mayor from the Midwest of a mid-sized city, I say, that’s kind of the point,” Buttigieg said. “I come from the kinds of communities, I’m from a very hard hit, diverse midwestern community that’s effected by [Washington’s] decision.”
Tiffany Martinson, who brought her two daughters and one of their friends to the event also arrived undecided.
“I’m leaning towards him,” Martinson said. “I’m here to decide if that’s the way I’m going to go or not.”
While many Iowa voters have cited defeating Trump as their number one priority when picking a candidate, Martinson said it was how strong a candidate’s commitment to social equality that would earn her support.
“We have a very diverse family so I like to see diversity represented,” Martinson said, but added that she also wanted to feel “connected to somebody” before voting for them.
“I want to feel like I’m excited to caucus for someone, and I’m hoping to find that connection,” Martinson explained, adding that while she caucused for Sanders in 2016, she wasn’t happy about it, and she won’t do it again on Monday.
The topic of diversity is a favorite of Buttigieg’s as the only openly gay major candidate in the race earning him the backing of the LGBT base in the party that has helped propel his presidential effort.
“Iowa has this beautiful way of changing what people think is possible, through the caucus process. First time I ever stepped foot in this state was in 2008 as a young volunteer for Senator Obama,” Buttigieg said. “And a couple years later, I was watching in my own home when Iowa took a step that gave folks like me permission to believe that we would in fact be able, one day, to wear a wedding ring like the one I got on.”
Buttigieg must have struck a cord with Martinson, who met us in the crowd offering a wide grin and a two thumbs-up as she was leaving.