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CONCORD, N.H. — Coming off what looks like at least a close second-place finish in Iowa, former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg turned his focus Tuesday to New Hampshire with a hectic schedule of speeches and town hall meetings.
Supporters lined up around the block in the shadow of the state Capitol on a chilly Tuesday night, eventually filling the 800-seat Concord City Auditorium for his final appearance of the day. Buttigieg took the stage to chants of “Pete!” and began his remarks by reflecting on the results of the Iowa caucuses.
“Well, I haven’t had a whole lot of sleep in the last 48 hours, but I’m having a very good day,” said Buttigieg. “We are having a very good day.”
Buttigieg declared at least a moral victory in Iowa on Monday night, based on his own campaign’s analysis of the data, something supporters of his rivals considered bad sportsmanship. #MayorCheat briefly trended on Twitter. Whether or not Buttigieg actually won is still unclear. The Iowa Democratic Party has faced devastating criticism for bungling the reporting of results on Monday night and releasing a partial tally the next day that may not reflect the ultimate order of finish. The Tuesday afternoon results, accounting for 62 percent of the total vote, showed Buttigieg leading Sen. Bernie Sanders in delegates but with fewer raw votes. Additional numbers released late Tuesday showed a similar picture. As of Wednesday morning, 71 percent of Iowa precincts had reported their results, and there was no assurance when the counting would be over.
One questioner at Tuesday night’s town hall asked Buttigieg when exactly he knew he had won Iowa, drawing a few laughs in the room. Buttigieg said his campaign had gathered its own data by observing the process and felt confident, but that it was comfortable calling it a victory even as it waited for official results.
“What we saw told us that even as we're getting the final math figured out, waiting for those verified results, that something extraordinary had happened, and this campaign that a lot of folks thought shouldn't even be there had taken its place in the very front ranks of this process,” said Buttigieg, who is the youngest candidate ever to seriously contend for a major-party nomination, a small-city ex-mayor with no national profile before entering the campaign, and a married gay man.
“And then we got the official word today,” he went on, citing the partial results that put him in the delegate lead. “Now, let me say that we're still waiting for more math to come through, but what we know, without any doubt, is that our vision has been validated, and that this is an astonishing victory for our organization, our values, our campaign and our candidates.”
He reflected on the historic nature of his campaign earlier Tuesday at an event in Laconia, N.H.
“This validates for a kid somewhere in a community wondering if he belongs or she belongs or they belong in their own family, that if you believe in yourself and your country, there is a lot backing up the belief,” he said.
Buttigieg spent much of his time making the electability pitch, saying he had spoken to many Republicans tired of President Trump’s tweets who would be open to supporting him. Buttigieg’s pitch combines his revolutionary persona with a centrist policy agenda and conventional professional credentials as a former management consultant, someone who can “galvanize, not polarize.”
At the Concord town hall, most of the questions were friendly, including one asking how Buttigieg takes care of himself while working so hard. But the first question of the evening got to the biggest challenge facing him going forward: How can he win over nonwhite voters?
Despite his positive coverage during most of 2019, Buttigieg has failed to gain traction with minority communities. A poll of South Carolina voters released last week showed him barely registering with African-Americans there, which tracks with recent national polling. Buttigieg has said voters of color just need more time to get to know him, but the clock is ticking, as the campaign is set to move past the predominantly white states of Iowa and New Hampshire.
On Tuesday night, Buttigieg laid out a number of policies he would pursue in an attempt to eliminate racial gaps in health care, education and homeownership, touting his Frederick Douglass Plan and the need for an updated Voting Rights Act to combat race-based voter suppression. He concluded by emphasizing that the best way to prove his electability to communities skeptical of his chances of beating Trump is to keep winning.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do, particularly in the South, where I have met a lot of folks who are suffering more than anyone else the pain of living under this presidency and who share that their No. 1 priority is knowing we’ll be able to defeat Donald Trump,” said Buttigieg. “The process of proving that begins here in New Hampshire, as we make our way on to states like Nevada and South Carolina and the Super Tuesday states as well, and we will earn that support.”
Can Buttigieg win in the Granite State? The most recent round of polling shows him generally in third or fourth place, trailing Sanders, former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, but the impact of the still-incomplete Iowa tally and his reaction to it haven’t been fully factored in. One advantage Buttigieg had over Sanders and Warren in Iowa is about to end: The final vote in Trump’s impeachment trial, which kept the senators in Washington, will occur on Wednesday, freeing the New Englanders to return to the trail full time.
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