Two recent polls show South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg surging to the lead in Iowa: the Monmouth poll released last week showing him with 22 percent support and especially this weekend’s widely respected Des Moines Register/CNN/Mediacom poll, in which he received 25 percent support. That’s a full nine points ahead of the candidate in second place, Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
The 37-year-old wunderkind has many advantages that can help steer him to the nomination, but his political vulnerabilities suggest that President Trump would defeat him soundly next November. (RELATED: Buttigieg Leads The Pack In Iowa According To New Monmouth Poll)
An Iowa win would be a promising (but not guaranteed) springboard for success in the following contests. Among the candidates who got their first national exposure with a win or strong second in Iowa are Jimmy Carter (1976), Gary Hart (1984), John Kerry (2004), John Edwards (2004), Barack Obama (2008), and Bernie Sanders (2016).
Much of the Buttigieg advantage in Iowa comes from his ground game. Mayor Pete and Warren tower over the other candidates in field offices, precinct captains, and volunteer teams, which are crucial in the retail politics of a caucus state.
And his ground game comes from his fundraising success, raising $19.1 million in the third quarter, putting him consistently in the top three candidates in money raised and money in the bank, along with Warren and Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Much (but certainly not all) of the Buttigieg money machine comes from gay donors, many of whom actually have been planning to vote for other candidates. That’s a community with more disposable income than the rest of the country, and once the idea of a married gay man in the White House sinks in, many more gay donors will begin to max out their contributions.
Buttigieg’s primary-race weakness with black voters has been overblown. In a multi-candidate race, he actually doesn’t need that many black votes, and because expectations are low, any prominent black endorsements or surprising polling results will echo more strongly than they might with another candidate. (RELATED: Report: Buttigieg Claiming That Black Support Doesn’t Exist)
Mayor Pete has very smartly positioned himself as the most logical moderate alternative to Joe Biden. If Biden comes in fourth in Iowa, the strapped-for-cash former vice president will be hard-pressed to make a New Hampshire comeback. And with progressives split between Warren and Sanders, Mayor Pete would be the candidate to beat.
Buttigieg’s political advantages would dissipate the day after he clinches the nomination.
Strengthening the ticket with a good choice of running mate will be difficult. The common approach of picking a less experienced but seemingly promising partner (Geraldine Ferraro, Dan Quayle, Jack Kemp, John Edwards, Sarah Palin) is not going to work, since it would be hard to find someone less experienced.
Choosing a senior statesman within the party is also a problem. It worked for George W. Bush picking Dick Cheney, but Bush was in his second term as governor of the nation’s second-largest state. If Buttigieg tries to tap a governor like California’s Gavin Newsom or a senator like Warren, he’s going to look like the junior partner. (RELATED: Buttigieg, Warren, And Sanders Out Raise Biden During Third Quarter)
The Democratic Party of 2020 will be more identity-politics-oriented than any in history, presenting its nominee with several needles that will be difficult to thread, like getting blacks and Hispanics to vote for the ticket without alienating the rest of the country. Mayor Pete would be concerned that his perceived weakness with blacks will depress turnout, and he may over-pander (reparations talk? anti-police rhetoric?) in a way that will further bind Obama-Trump voters to the current president.
And what about Latinos? Unlike the other languages he claims to speak, the South Bend mayor really is fluent in Spanish. That presents a dilemma. Does he campaign in Spanish in Latino communities, thus trying to win Arizona and even Texas? If he does so, he will remind voters of his wildly unpopular free-health-care-for-illegals stance. And if he dares use Spanish in the fall debates (as many Democrats have done in the primary debates), President Trump can score points by simply asking him what country he’s running for president of.
Most dangerous, though, will be his identity as a gay nominee for president.
Not because Americans don’t like gays. By the third decade of the 21st century, most voters either love the gay people in their families or really couldn’t care less about a person’s romantic and bedroom life.
The problem is not that Mayor Pete is gay, but that in the four years since gay marriage passed, the LGBTQ community (as they’re calling it these days) has become extraordinarily radicalized in a hurry, with no tolerance for dissent.
Mayor Pete is going to have to answer some questions that will either enrage his home community or alienate him from the electorate: should sex-change surgery on children be legal? Must biological males be allowed to compete (and beat) biological females on girls’ sports teams? What are your pronouns and why don’t you mention them in every speech?
Further, Buttigieg’s strengths in the primary (he’s young, he’s smart) are not going to hurt President Trump, because Trump’s weaknesses are NOT “he’s old and dumb.”
His potential vulnerabilities are related to policy. Opinion polls suggest that Trump is out of step with voter preferences on issues like climate change, gun control, and taxes for the wealthy.
However, Trump can fight Mayor Pete to a draw on issues, since the Democrats are out of step with the country on ending private insurance, decriminalizing border crossings, and especially free health care for illegals.
A tie favors the incumbent. Especially one who has shepherded a booming economy.
Buttigieg does have one plus that has been barely noticed by the media: the home field advantage at the first presidential debate. Strangely, out of all the universities in the country that the supposedly nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates could have chosen for that event, they picked Notre Dame, which is only two miles from the city where Buttigieg was mayor for eight years. South Bend is the 306th largest city in the country.
That’s not going to be enough.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.