IN Focus: Gauging Pete Buttigieg’s prospects in the Indiana primary

Politics

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg was in Indianapolis Thursday for a private fundraiser, returning to Indiana with momentum after strong showings in the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary.

We watched Thursday as VIP guests entered the private fundraiser for the former South Bend mayor, who could still be in a fight for the nomination when Indiana voters go to the polls for the May primary.

“Money is always critical and he is trying to build up that momentum and keep it going,” said Political Analyst and Political Science Professor at the University of Indianapolis Laura Wilson.

She notes the timing of this event says a lot.

“It shows that even though we are coming up to the Nevada primary and the South Carolina primary he obviously thinks this fundraiser is important and being in Indianapolis is important because you only have so much time and he is choosing to spend it here with us,” said Wilson.

Buttigieg is leading in terms of delegates after two primary elections.

But questions remain over how will he do  in future contests and here in Indiana – a state that Bernie Sanders won in the 2016 primary election.

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“It’s hard to say at this point," said Wilson. "I would tell you it says a lot about the Democratic party that from an ideological perspective they are still up in the air who they want to support. Bernie being much more progressive, Buttigieg being much more moderate."

We asked on Twitter if Buttigieg being a Hoosier impacts whether people might vote for him and 83 percent said no but 17 percent said yes.

“Someone being from Indiana gives it a little more of a hometown feel, " said Indiana resident Christian Ross. "You relate to them a little more, they know a little more about what you have been through and what experiences you have.”

Wilson says if Buttigieg wants to do well here, he may want to emphasize his Midwest upbringing.

“If he can talk about Indiana being a success, sticking to those talking points, that makes Hoosiers feel good about themselves and that makes them also feel good about him and his candidacy,” said Wilson.

The former mayor's private fundraisers have brought increased scrutiny from opponents who've been critical of the campaign for embracing big-money donors. In recent weeks, the campaign has responded to that pressure by starting to allow some media access to private fundraisers, via pool reports.

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Thursday's event was chronicled by Importantville's Adam Wren, a contributing editor at Politico and Indianapolis Monthly.

Wren described the former mayor's interactions with a number of well-known Democrats who attended:

Prominent local attendees included the shopping mall scion and Democratic mega-donor Deb Simon; Indiana Democratic Party Chair John Zody; vice-chair of the Indiana Democratic Party and Democratic National Committee member Cordelia Lewis-Burks, a well-known African American politico here and the first Indiana super-delegate to back Barack Obama’s candidacy in 2008; Buttigieg’s Indiana State Director Arielle Brandy; president of Indiana Latino Caucus Elise Shrock; former Indiana Democratic Chair Dan Parker and Emmis CEO Jeff Smulyan (Emmis owns Indianapolis Monthly, for which Wren is a contributing editor).

Evansville City Council President Alex Burton, only the second black council president of his southern Indiana city, began the program by becoming the latest African American elected official to endorse Buttigieg.

Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett, who endorsed Buttigieg last Thursday before filing papers for the candidate to appear on Indiana’s May 5 primary ballot, introduced the mayor. “At the end of the day, a mayor just can’t make promises,” Hogsett said. “They need vision, but they also are expected by their constituencies to explain precisely how they plan to deliver on that vision.”

Buttigieg—wearing a black suit, white shirt, and blue tie—took the mic at 1:44 p.m., and delivered a nine-minute version of his stump-speech, standing in front of a large window that overlooked a snowy, sylvan scene. “What a thrill to be back home again in Indiana. I was worried the dogs would not recognize me,” he said of his rescue dogs Buddy and Truman. “But turns out as long as you give them treats, Buddy and Truman will forgive my being absent for a while.”

Buttigieg tailored his opening remarks to fit his home state audience. “The further I go, the more I admire the different places around the country we get to go, but also, the more I love my Indiana home, and I’m so glad to be here with you.” Buttigieg alluded to what could become a long primary, referencing Indiana’s late primary. “Who knows?" He said. "Maybe we’ll clinch the nomination on Hoosier soil?”

He waxed nostalgic about his 2010 bid for state treasurer. He said he had to learn how to work a room from Hogsett, talking about his introverted nature. “It’s not maybe the most instinctive thing for me to go into a room full of strangers and stick my hand out, interrupt them as they’re enjoying their tenderloin, as I learned how to do back in 2010 when I was running for state treasurer, and then I started thinking to myself, well, think about how Joe Hogsett would handle this room.”

Buttigieg acknowledged his finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire. “Somebody must have made a killing on the Irish betting markets online,” he said. “Because no matter how much we believed in this vision, what has happened in the last few weeks is extraordinary.”

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