The crowd was estimated as more than 1,000 people by the Des Moines Register while some said the number was actually closer to 1,600. Focusing on the specific number misses the point, though. And the point is that there were A LOT of people at the Buttigieg rally. A LOT.
That turnout stands in stark contrast to the last — and first — time Buttigieg visited the Hawkeye State as a potential presidential candidate in February. As the Des Moines Register wrote of that visit:
“When Buttigieg told Iowans in early February that he wanted to be president, the Democrat faced a group of about two dozen at an Ames coffee shop. Half appeared to really be there for the coffee; a bean-grinding machine drowned out parts of his remarks.”
Only 67 days passed between that first Buttigieg visit and the third one on Tuesday. Which speaks to how quickly he has gone from “who?” to “holy cow!” — and all without running a single TV ad or, really, doing any sort of persuasion communication outside of a CNN town hall last month in Austin and traveling to early voting states to meet with voters. His momentum in the race is remarkably organic.
“The people attending Pete’s event last night — and our events generally — just want to see Pete in the flesh and engage with the campaign,” said Lis Smith, Buttigieg’s communications director, via email Wednesday.
The crowd in Des Moines on Tuesday night is a living, breathing sign of that organic energy. While Buttigieg is the “it” candidate of the moment in the 2020 race, he’s still in the process of building a team in Iowa — and other early states. He lacks the on-the-ground organization of, say Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren or Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. Warren reportedly has 50(!) staffers in Iowa already; Sanders’ campaign has said they have already IDed 20,000 volunteer supporters. Buttigieg, as of today, has two staffers in Iowa. TWO. Smith says the campaign uses an online organizing tool — Mobilize America — to encourage people to attend events. No repeated text messages or phone-banked reminder calls.
And it’s not just crowd size that tells the tale of the Buttigieg Bump. In a Monmouth University poll in Iowa out earlier this month, Buttigieg took 9% — running behind only Sanders and former Vice President Joe Biden. And in a Saint Anselm College poll of New Hampshire voters, Buttigieg ran third behind only Biden and Sanders as well.
Here’s the thing: While the up-from-the-roots energy for Buttigieg is a) real b) sustaining and c) something every other candidate in the race covets badly, it is not necessarily predictive of much of anything. Yes, through force of personality and a message and a back story that has resonated with voters so far, Buttigieg has already reached levels in the 2020 race that many thought he would never sniff. (He’s ranked No. 5 in CNN’s latest ratings of the 2020 field.) But it’s April 2019, not April 2020.
No one knows that reality more than Buttigieg. “I’m under no illusion that looking good in April of ’19 means that we’re where we need to be in order to win this thing,” he told Radio Iowa on Tuesday night.
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