OELWEIN, Iowa — Two days earlier than the Iowa caucuses, Pete Buttigieg stopped for a city corridor occasion on the Oelwein Coliseum, a 92-year-old music venue that in its heyday hosted the likes of Lawrence Welk and Sammy Kaye.
Current historical past recommended there weren’t many Democrats to win over in Oelwein: After President Barack Obama received surrounding Fayette County by 12 proportion factors in 2012, Donald J. Trump carried it by 19 factors 4 years later. Through the occasion’s query interval, one man described himself to Mr. Buttigieg as a fiscally accountable “lifelong Republican” and mentioned that “for those who don’t win, I’m in all probability not going to vote Democratic.”
“Nicely,” Mr. Buttigieg informed the gang of 250, a few third of the 2016 Fayette County caucus universe, “I higher win, then.”
Mr. Buttigieg, the 38-year-old former mayor of South Bend, Ind., seems to have succeeded. His exhibiting throughout Iowa’s rural counties on Monday propelled him to a dead heat with Senator Bernie Sanders for the lead within the state’s caucuses. Mr. Buttigieg carried Fayette County by 14 proportion factors over former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., who positioned second.
Now, as the main focus turns to New Hampshire and its major subsequent Tuesday, Mr. Buttigieg has emerged as a formidable top-tier contender, harnessing the momentum from Iowa and campaigning with confidence and a big dose of swagger.
New polls this week have affirmed his energy as a average rivaling and even surpassing Mr. Biden: A Monmouth survey put him second in New Hampshire, 4 proportion factors behind Mr. Sanders, and a Boston Globe/Suffolk University poll revealed on Friday confirmed him gaining momentum there and in a digital tie with Mr. Sanders.
For a very long time on this major, Democrats appeared to be deciding between the progressive sizzle in Mr. Sanders and Senator Elizabeth Warren, or the statesmanlike safety blanket in Mr. Biden. Ultimately, Iowans preferred Mr. Sanders but in addition embraced Mr. Buttigieg, a Midwestern neighbor with a compelling biography: Rhodes scholar, navy veteran, potential history-maker as an brazenly homosexual candidate.
That he had run solely a city of 100,000 people didn’t appear to trouble his supporters, who gravitated towards his soothing paeans to consensus-driven options and “the American experiment.”
A lot of his success could be traced to geography and timing. Whereas Mr. Sanders and Ms. Warren centered their campaigns on Iowa’s cities and faculty cities and Mr. Biden never developed a strong organization, Mr. Buttigieg went in every single place. He held extra occasions over extra days in Iowa than his prime three rivals, two of whom had been sidelined by the Senate impeachment trial, and watched the funding repay by working robust within the Des Moines suburbs and throughout rural Iowa.
Mr. Buttigieg campaigned in 27 of the 31 Iowa counties that backed Mr. Obama in 2012 earlier than swinging to President Trump in 2016, lots of them alongside the Mississippi River. With a message of bridging divisions within the celebration and the nation, he drew the most important crowds of any candidate in 20 Obama-Trump counties, in line with his marketing campaign.
His margins throughout Republican-leaning rural Iowa helped propel him to a slender delegate lead over Mr. Sanders, carrying to New Hampshire the argument that he’s the candidate round whom average Democrats ought to coalesce in opposition to the democratic socialist from Vermont.
“We would have liked a brand new path ahead, a path that welcomed folks as a substitute of pushing them away, introduced them collectively as a substitute of driving them aside, as a result of that is our greatest and possibly our final shot,” Mr. Buttigieg informed supporters at his caucus evening celebration on Monday in Des Moines.
However whilst he gained a shot of momentum from Iowa, he enters a brand new part of the Democratic marketing campaign as a probably weak potential nominee, unable up to now to broaden his coalition to minority voters and younger voters wanted to confront Mr. Trump in November. With the lackluster exhibiting in Iowa by Mr. Biden — the candidate with probably the most help from black voters in nationwide polls — the race has grown more and more unpredictable.
For Mr. Buttigieg, the journey from unknown small-city mayor — whose lone expertise on the nationwide political stage was in a contest to be Democratic Nationwide Committee chairman that netted him a single vote — to a prime end within the Iowa caucuses ran by means of cornfields just like those he says he can run to from his Indiana dwelling.
Alongside the best way, he grew to become the one one in every of greater than two dozen candidates in his celebration’s 2020 major to vault from close to anonymity into the race’s prime tier.
After dropping 9 factors from November to mid-January within the Des Moines Register/CNN ballot of the state — probably the most of any candidate, and a reversal that had pundits counting Mr. Buttigieg out — he supplied Iowans a closing message of unity in an period so tumultuous many citizens really feel traumatic shock.
The turning level of his race appeared to return within the days after the Democratic debate on Jan. 14 in Des Moines, when rivals within the Senate needed to return to Washington for the impeachment trial, and Mr. Buttigieg was free to roam broadly.
In Council Bluffs, Wendy Rustad, a instructor on the Iowa Faculty for the Deaf, mentioned that she had voted for Mr. Trump, however supposed to modify her registration to Democrat to caucus for Mr. Buttigieg after listening to him communicate.
“I really feel like he has embarrassed America on the worldwide stage,” she mentioned of the president. She praised Mr. Buttigieg for “not focusing as a lot on what’s occurring with the inventory market to point the financial well being of the nation, however to take a look at the lives of actual folks.”
In Cedar Rapids, Mr. Buttigieg mentioned it was time to power Mr. Trump to face on a debate stage “with an American warfare veteran and clarify precisely why bone spurs prevented him from serving this nation.”
Afterward, Christine Salter mentioned that he had nudged her off the fence as an undecided voter. “His message was the primary I’ve heard that basically excited me,” mentioned Ms. Salter, a human assets supervisor. “I’m lastly trying ahead to the caucus as a substitute of ‘who am I going to choose?’”
However as Mr. Buttigieg sprints into New Hampshire, he’s that a lot nearer to a looming existential risk to his candidacy: an absence of help from black voters.
Senior marketing campaign officers have repeatedly informed donors — and Mr. Buttigieg echoes the pitch on the stump chatting with voters — that within the speedy aftermath of Barack Obama’s shock Iowa caucus victory in 2008, he gathered newfound black help and a gusher of donations. The Obama marketing campaign raised practically as a lot cash instantly after Iowa because it did within the previous yr.
Iowa, Mr. Buttigieg mentioned repeatedly whereas campaigning, gave America “permission to imagine” in Mr. Obama and will do the identical for him.
The comparability, nonetheless, can’t stand a lot scrutiny. In contrast to Mr. Obama, who swept by means of the South with big help from African-Individuals, Mr. Buttigieg is struggling mightily with voters of shade. His marketing campaign has spent greater than $1 million on tv promoting in South Carolina since early December, with little motion to indicate for it in polling there.
Whereas Mr. Buttigieg spent the ultimate 10 days in Iowa holding greater than 50 boards and giving tens of 1000’s of voters an opportunity to turn out to be acquainted, his political identification remains to be steeped in controversies from his time as mayor, particularly his relationship with black residents of South Bend.
Early in 2019, he had sought to introduce himself to the nation as a Midwest mayor who restored pleasure and the financial system to a Rust Belt metropolis — a lot of which was true. Sitting at 1 p.c in Iowa polls in March, he broke by means of with hyper-articulate responses to questions at an hourlong town-hall-style broadcast on CNN. He contrasted his religion with that of Vice President Mike Pence, a former Indiana governor, whom Mr. Buttigieg known as “the cheerleader for the porn star presidency.”
Days earlier than the Iowa caucuses, Lis Smith, Mr. Buttigieg’s senior communications adviser, known as the CNN city corridor “the one most essential second of this marketing campaign.” Different 2020 candidates — Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Mayor Invoice de Blasio of New York — had additionally carried out CNN’s city halls. “Who was the one individual that took that chance, took that one hour and owned that one hour and used it to launch a whole marketing campaign?” Ms. Smith mentioned. “That was Pete.”
Mr. Buttigieg raised a field-leading $24.8 million within the three months that ended June 30, a determine that shocked Democratic politics and introduced him as a contender. The money infusion, mixed with a proclivity to comply with virtually each interview request, helped give Mr. Buttigieg a form of star energy that often enraged rivals, whereas branding him because the “contemporary and new” candidate — a useful trait for Iowa Democrats in quest of the following Obama.
Mr. Buttigieg is the youngest candidate within the subject, but he has constructed his energy in Iowa on an enchantment to older Democrats. His younger and energetic organizers had been steadily surrounded by white-haired crowds at his stops within the state. Mr. Buttigieg informed audiences he needed to be generally known as “the Social Safety candidate” and cultivated the concept that he was the nice young man his older supporters envisioned.
However Mr. Buttigieg’s candidacy grew to become shadowed by episodes that had angered black residents in South Bend. That in flip fed a story that Mr. Buttigieg had little support from black voters nationally, which lingered over Iowa’s closely white constituency.
In June, a white police officer in South Bend fatally shot a black resident, and Mr. Buttigieg stepped off the campaign trail to attempt to calm his metropolis. Within the glare of the nationwide highlight, different tales about South Bend surfaced: a longstanding mistrust between the police and a few black residents; Mr. Buttigieg’s dismissal in 2012 of a black police chief; and the unequal financial revival of downtown companies and poor, predominantly nonwhite neighborhoods.
A story, in some circumstances pushed by supporters of rival presidential candidates, arose that Mr. Buttigieg had not carried out sufficient for black residents. And inside his personal marketing campaign, employees of color said they were marginalized and felt compelled to carry conferences in December and January to air their grievances.
When African-American leaders in South Bend held a public assembly to rebut this impression and specific help for Mr. Buttigieg, it was interrupted by Black Lives Matter activists, a few of whom had been supporters of Mr. Sanders.
However by the tip of his Iowa marketing campaign, Mr. Buttigieg was campaigning with a number of outstanding African-American supporters: Quentin Hart, the mayor of Waterloo, Iowa; Consultant Anthony G. Brown of Maryland; Bruce Teague, the mayor of Iowa Metropolis; and Sean Shaw, a former Florida state consultant. Every of them, together with Ryann Richardson, the reigning Miss Black America, joined Mr. Buttigieg onstage on his remaining day of campaigning Sunday.