Pete Buttigieg will take the debate stage in Miami tonight alongside nine of his fellow Democrats, marking the first time millions of voters will meet the mayor of Indiana’s fourth-largest city.
Buttigieg will debate self-help author Marianne Williamson, former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, entrepreneur Andrew Yang, former Vice President Joe Biden, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, California Senator Kamala Harris, New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Colorado Senator Michael Bennet, and California Rep. Eric Swalwell.
His presence on the stage tonight at the Knight Concert Hall of the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts is itself something of a coup. After launching his long-shot bid at a press conference on January 23, the then-little-known mayor took nearly two months to make the debate stage by amassing 65,000 individual donors and registering in early state polls. He officially crossed the required threshold on March 16, after a star turn at a CNN town hall.
Since then, the mayor has soared in polls: He ranks third or fourth in most polls of early states such as Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina.
According to Morning Consult, Buttigieg’s name identification among registered voters nationally has gone from 0 percent to 69 percent over the last six months, with 31% percent of voters still saying they have never heard of him.
Tonight’s debate will also be an opportunity for him to address a roiling policing crisis back home in South Bend after an officer-involved shooting led to the death of a black man by a white police officer. The episode has laid bare a rift between South Bend’s largely white police force and the city’s minority community. Buttigieg often says he wants to “get Washington to look more like our best-run cities and towns,” a phrase that critics are using against him as they evaluate the quality of his police department, one that has declined in diversity during his time in office.
Buttigieg spent much of last week back in South Bend dealing with the fallout of the shooting, canceling a glitzy L.A. fundraiser that was set to be hosted by fellow Hoosier Ryan Murphy.
His handling of the crisis has been criticized by political detractors and allies alike. “Those who know him—and I do—could see the anguish etched in his furrowed brow,” wrote David Axelrod, the director of the University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics and former senior adviser to President Obama, in a CNN column following a tense town hall Buttigieg hosted in South Bend Sunday afternoon to discuss the issue. “But his answers were delivered in a factual, almost clinical, manner, more in keeping with his prior life as an analyst for McKinsey & Co. than the ministerial role called for by an episode in which a life was lost.”
Buttigieg jetted to Florida Monday after the town hall, and has been trying to walk a delicate line between minding the store in South Bend while keeping his momentum on the campaign trail.
Based on months of tracking Buttigieg on the campaign trail, analyzing transcripts from interviews and his stump speech, I’ve collected some of his commonly used talking points that he is likely to deploy tonight, as he tries to make a generational contrast with more well-known candidates such as Biden.
Indiana Democratic Party is hosting a watch party at Moe & Johnny’s, one of 13 such watch parties around the state.