The Journal Gazette
Thursday, November 21, 2019 1:00 am

View from the inside

Iowans drawn to Buttigieg's Midwest moderation

Michael Bugeja

I'm a fiscal conservative and social liberal, the type of voter Mayor Pete is recruiting to his cause.

Buttigieg and I share the same Maltese heritage. Like his father, Joseph, I am a professor. Because of that, I was one of the early contributors to Mayor Pete's campaign but was planning to vote for someone else.

I had been leaning toward Elizabeth Warren, mainly because of her compassion for the less fortunate.

I had misgivings about her free college tuition – which I wrote about in the Des Moines Register – and her “Medicare for all” plan.

Mayor Pete won me over when he challenged Warren in the October debate, asking how she was going to pay for all she promised. She stumbled, and Buttigieg replied: “A yes-or-no question that didn't get a yes-or-no answer. Look, this is why people here in the Midwest are so frustrated with Washington in general and Capitol Hill in particular.”

Recent polls place Buttigieg as a top contender with the likes of Warren, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders. This has excited many in Iowa and in Malta, too.

This summer, one of my relatives remembered Mayor Pete as a child during one of his regular visits to the archipelago. “Smart boy,” she said. Maybe a bit rambunctious.

Carmen Sammut, associate professor at the University of Malta, whose research interests include international relations and political communication, says some of her colleagues have similar memories. “But until recently, nobody would have guessed that a Maltese descendant would have such a powerful impact on the Democratic presidential race.”

Sammut has closely followed Buttigieg's rise. “He is articulate, erudite, fresh and presents an antidote to Trumpism. His selfless sense of public service is inspirational. Buttigieg embodies hope and trust in humanity. Many of us are not surprised that he is peaking in this opportune time.”

My colleagues here say the same thing.

Steffen Schmidt, Iowa State political science professor, notes that “Buttigieg is defying the expectations of most experts and the media. He has gained respect for his smart and calm interviews, his military service, his experience as a mayor actually running something, and his courage as a gay married person stepping into the brightest limelight.”

Kelly Winfrey, Iowa State assistant professor and expert on political campaigns and gender, says Buttigieg “checks the moderate boxes without Biden's nearly 50 years of political baggage. He has focused on unifying the country at a time when many voters are tired of the divisiveness.” Moreover, she adds, he has a good ground game, “spending time in rural parts of the state appealing to Midwestern values and racking up endorsements from community leaders.”

Kathie Kinrade Obradovich, lowa editor for States Newsroom, echoes Winfrey's observations. “Buttigieg is a younger, hipper alternative to Joe Biden. He's a Midwestern neighbor who understands why many people here might be leery of the seismic changes proposed by rivals like Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren.

“And yet he can check the box for those looking to break demographic glass ceilings and who want a fresh face.”

No one knows whether Mayor Pete's momentum will carry him through our Feb. 3, 2020, caucus and on to other early primary states.

He faces obstacles in South Carolina's Feb. 29 primary because he is not well known within African American communities, and some voters with religious affiliations oppose gay marriage, according to the New York Times.

I recall similar doubts in 2008 about Barack Obama being the first African American candidate to win the Iowa caucus. “They said this day would never come,” Obama proclaimed. The Times credited his win to a large turnout with Iowans yearning for change.

I sense the same yearning in Iowa, but not for change. Many crave reliability over instability. Moderation over exaggeration. Unity over hostility.

Pete Buttigieg seems poised to deliver that.

Michael Bugeja, a distinguished professor of journalism at Iowa State University, is the author of “Living Media Ethics” and “Interpersonal Divide in the Age of the Machine.” These views are his own.

Sign up for our daily headlines newsletter

Top headlines are sent daily

Share this article