A Democratic strategist has tipped Mayor Pete Buttigieg as a potential surprise frontrunner who could go “toe-to-toe” with President Donald Trump after Tuesday’s debate.
Michael Gordon, a former Clinton administration staffer and chief executive of the strategic communications firm Group Gordon, told Newsweek that Buttigieg stood out in the Democratic primary debate on Tuesday night.
He also said the Mayor of South Bend, Indiana, could “surprise” pundits in a state like Iowa when the first caucuses and primaries get underway.
Speaking to Newsweek, Gordon said Buttigieg “definitely got more aggressive” against frontrunner Elizabeth Warren and other candidates in the debate hosted by CNN and The New York Times.
“You could picture him more going toe-to-toe with Trump, he said. “He has a real moral authority in the way he talks, so he’s someone… who could surprise in, like Iowa.”
He recognized that the frontrunner field was “basically Biden and Warren” as things stood, but said he thought “a Buttigieg or someone else could surprise.”
“It’s hard to picture a Buttigieg or someone getting into that frontrunner status before the voting begins,” Gordon said. “But we should keep our eyes on the polls and see if anything like that changes.”
Buttigieg has leveled a lot of public criticism at Trump during the 2020 Democratic primary race, just as most other candidates have done. In the last few months, he called Trump’s tweets “grotesque” at a Fox News town hall and accused Trump of stripping U.S. troops of their honor after deciding to withdraw them from northeastern Syria.
But back-and-forths with Trump have not always swung his way. In May this year, President Trump compared Buttigieg to Mad magazine mascot Alfred E. Neumann in an exclusive interview with Politico.
As polling stands, Buttigieg is almost 24 points behind former Vice President Joe Biden in the Democratic primary race, according to Real Clear Politics’ average of polls.
He is in fourth place with just 5.6 percent of Democrats backing him, putting him 10 points behind third place Bernie Sanders.
But the Real Clear Politics average of Iowa Democratic caucus polls puts him in a more competitive position. While still being in fourth place, he is polling at around 12 percent while third place Sanders is backed by a project 16 percent of Iowa Democrats.
A focus group survey by the data-driven outlet FiveThirtyEight and Ipsos found that voters felt Buttigieg performed well at Tuesday’s Democratic debate, almost tying with Bernie Sanders for second place onstage.