Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg says the Iowans he’s met in the first-in-the-nation caucus state aren’t asking him about the recent criticismsÂ lodged against him by his competitors and others.
The South Bend, Indiana, mayor told theÂ Des Moines Register editorial boardÂ on Monday that likely Iowa caucusgoers instead are asking him about issues like health care accessibility and labor protections.
“As you saw in the debate, I’m certainly prepared to defend from any attack,” Buttigieg told the board. “But my conversationÂ with Iowans is driven by Iowans.”
Buttigieg wrapped a two-day swing around central Iowa on Monday, days after a Democratic primary debate where other candidates went after Buttigieg on fundraising and political experience.
U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts criticized ButtigiegÂ for participating in fundraisersÂ involving wealthy donors, particularly a recent event in a wine cave in Napa Valley. U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota highlighted Buttigieg’s lack of experience in higher elected office and claimed the mayor â€œmockedâ€ the experience of the senators on stage.
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During the debate and afterward, Buttigieg defended soliciting donations from wealthy donors if that’s what’s neededÂ to defeat President Donald Trump. Buttigieg has also argued that Warren in previous election cycles has accepted similar contributions.Â Buttigieg also shot back at Klobuchar that he could bring together a coalition of voters.
Despite the attention generated from the back-and-forth, Buttigieg mostly stuck to his stump speech Sunday during town halls in Indianola and Perry. He releasedÂ a new immigration policy ahead of his trip that proposes modernizing the country’s system for processing and assisting immigrants,Â including a path to citizenship.Â
Buttigieg saidÂ Iowans are not coming up to him to discuss whether experience in Washington, D.C. is more meaningful thanÂ work as a mayor.
“Litigating that is dramatically less important to the folks I’m talking to, than the question, ‘What are you going to do to make my life better?'” he told the Register.
“Every election, in my opinion, is about one question and it’s the voters’Â question: ‘How will my life be different if you’re president instead of you, you, or you?” Buttigieg continued.Â “And the attacksÂ … and the stuff flying around on social media doesn’t change the answer to that question. My job is to make it extremely clear: What we’re goingÂ do, and why, and who I’m standing up for. And that’s what I think Iowans and voters everywhere are asking.”
Buttigieg said the inquiries he’s received center around how to increase wages, expand health care, ensure retirement savings and addressÂ military engagement.
“These are the questions I’m getting on the campaign trail,” Buttigieg said. “And those are the things that motivated me to run for office in the first place. I’m not going to change my focus on those things, just because of the day-to-day political cycle.”
Buttigieg’s popularity in IowaÂ Â â€” heÂ led the most recent Des Moines Register/CNN/Mediacom Iowa PollÂ â€”Â hasÂ brought on more scrutiny ofÂ his candidacy, and his lack of support with African American votersÂ in South Carolina.
Angie Rathbun, 41, of Ankeny, saw Buttigieg in Indianola. SheÂ saidÂ Democrats shouldn’t attack each other over fundraising. Buttigieg recently opened his high-dollar fundraisers to the press and provided a list of his top fundraisers, following criticism from Warren over transparency that briefly followedÂ him to IowaÂ earlier this month.
“Trump is going to have the money,” Rathbun said, alluding to the fact that the president and the Republican Party raised more than $300 million during the last quarter. “… As long as (Buttigieg) is being open about the wine caves. If there’s an element of secrecy around his fundraising then that’s going to be a concern.”
Ray Tharp, a 34-year-old from Norwalk who also saw Buttigieg in Indianola, said he understands why Buttigieg is under fire as caucus night approaches.
“As he’s taken the lead, he’s taken the shots,” Tharp said.Â “He doesn’t get flustered. He keeps his cool.”
But Tharp acknowledged that he’sÂ concerned about Buttigieg’s support with African American votersÂ and his support afterÂ the Iowa caucuses. Tharp, who plans to caucus for the mayor,Â believes he canÂ address them.
“I think he’s the best choice for the country,” Tharp said.
Buttigieg is scheduled to return to Iowa after Christmas for a three-day swing around central and southeast Iowa.
Barbara Rodriguez covers health care and politics for the Register. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 515-284-8011. Follow her on Twitter @bcrodriguez.
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