There is a first for everything and today was a first Pete
Buttigieg. In a Monmouth
University poll of Iowa caucus-goers released on Tuesday, Mayor Pete has
vaulted to the lead for the first time.
The new poll shows Buttigieg leading the pack with 22
percent support. This represents a shockingly fast surge for a candidate who
garnered only eight percent back in August.
The poll shows Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren in a statistical
tie with 19 ad 18 percent respectively. Bernie Sanders runs a distant fourth at
13 percent. No other candidate polled above five percent.
While the Monmouth poll may not be enough to establish Mayor
Pete as the Iowa frontrunner, other polling does confirm his rise and Elizabeth
Warren’s decline. A Quinnipiac poll from last week showed Warren and Buttigieg tied with 20 and 19 percent
respectively. That poll put Sanders in third with 17 percent and Joe Biden at
A month ago, a New
York Times poll had Warren at 22 percent. The Massachusetts senator was followed
by Sanders, Buttigieg, and Biden who were all within one point of each other.
The Iowa polling seems to be following a pattern in which the
top four candidates ebb and flow as voters consider their pros and cons. Warren
surges for a few weeks and then Buttigieg gets a turn as Warren’s weaknesses
are revealed. Biden and Sanders have been more-or-less consistent in their Iowa
polling even though both men have suffered setbacks.
The Buttigieg surge comes with both good news and bad for
Mayor Pete. The bad news is that there is not much depth to his ground game. While
rolling in cash, the Buttigieg campaign is heavily invested in Iowa and has
little in the way of infrastructure or support elsewhere. Mayor Pete’s failure
to generate excitement among black voters will be particularly problematic
as the race moves to the South. In New Hampshire, a recent Quinnipiac poll showed him with 15 percent, competitive with Warren and Sanders for second
but behind Joe Biden.
The good news for Mayor Pete is that his surge may not be
enough to attract a significant amount of attention from the other Democrats at
next week’s debate. National
polling still shows Biden as the frontrunner with Elizabeth Warren fading
into second place. In national polling, Buttigieg does not even break into double-digits.
To have a sustainable campaign, Buttigieg must look beyond
Iowa and broaden his appeal while fending off attacks from his rivals. If Mayor
Pete can hold on for three months to pull off an upset victory in Iowa, then he
may be able to parley his new frontrunner status into more victories. Not following
the examples of Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren, who both used their time in
the spotlight to crash and burn, may be a bigger problem.
Pete Buttigieg and his supporters have worked hard to be
competitive in Iowa. Over the next few weeks, we will see if the effort was
worth it or whether he is just another flavor-of-the-month.