Election 2020 Pete Buttigieg Religion

In this Aug. 15 photo, Democratic presidential candidate South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg speaks at a campaign event in Fairfield. 

Pete Buttigieg says his recently burgeoning campaign organization in Iowa positions him for a legitimate run at a victory in the Iowa caucuses in five months.

Buttigieg’s campaign, like many others, has had to play catch-up to some of the Democratic presidential candidates who built out their Iowa organization early in the cycle.

Elizabeth Warren, for example, built an impressive campaign organization ahead of the curve.

Buttigieg’s team has been trying to make up some of that ground in recent months. His Iowa organization employs more than 60 staff members, and the campaign is opening offices this week in Cedar Rapids and Iowa City.

That organization is expected to grow substantially in the coming weeks, the Buttigieg campaign said.

As Iowa caucus campaign veterans know well, organization is critical for success here. Buttigieg believes his Iowa organization’s growth will help keep him competitive for the run up to the February caucuses.

“We’ve vaulted into the level we’re at, which we’re thrilled with,” Buttigieg said in an interview during a recent campaign trip to Iowa. “What really makes the difference on how you get to the absolute top of the heap is the work that’s going on behind the scenes. ...

“What’s really important is you’ve got dozens of people on the ground, making friends, mapping out the kind of relationships that are going to drive, when it comes to the caucus, how all that works. Even six months out I think we’re very much starting to focus on the actual mechanics of the caucus.”

Buttigieg notes his campaign had to start from a different position than some of the other candidates in the race who already had national profiles, like former Vice President Joe Biden or the large batch of U.S. senators, including Warren and Bernie Sanders.

Indeed, Buttigieg polled at just 1 percent in a Des Moines Register/CNN poll in March. But by June, the Register/CNN poll found Buttigieg at 14 percent.

That poll was a high-water mark for Buttigieg, according to polls tracked by Real Clear Politics. Recent polls in Iowa have placed Buttigieg between 6 percent and 8 percent; solidly in the second tier of candidates, but still trailing the front-runners: Biden, Sanders and Warren.

If Buttigieg is to have a chance to join the top tier, he will have to impress Iowa Democrats and his newly beefed-up organization must find and secure that support.

“For us, the path was a little different. You had some candidates with a national profile and then they had to kind of translate that locally. For us, in many ways our national profile grew through our visits to places like Iowa, so it’s much more organic and it’s much more a sense of building something from scratch,” Buttigieg said. “But we’ve got the resources to do it right, so over the next six months or so it’s really a question of putting this organization to work and refining it.”

A strong organization is critical in Iowa. The examples are bountiful, but most recently Ted Cruz won here in 2016 — one of the few early states Donald Trump did not win. Cruz’s victory over Trump was in no small part because of the impressive campaign organization he built here.

Buttigieg is packed in a group of Democratic candidates hoping to break out and challenge the race’s leaders. He may now have the organization to compete with those leaders; now it’s up to the candidate.

“For an organization that had four people total nationally in January, we’re obviously thrilled with where we are. And I think we’ve outlived the stage where it looked like this might be just a spike, and then we’re never to be heard from again,” Buttigieg said. “We’ve really consolidated a position in this tier, and now of course we have to go the distance.”

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Erin Murphy covers Iowa politics and government for Lee Enterprises. His email address is erin.murphy@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter at @ErinDMurphy.


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