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Buttigieg: Results are proving to S.C. voters he’s ‘a serious contender’

The former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg is hoping his success in the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary will prove his electability among minority voters.

“Before anybody cares what’s in your plans, they want to know if you’re a serious contender,” Buttigieg said in an interview with PBS NewsHour anchor and managing editor Judy Woodruff. “I think up until we had the results we did here in Iowa and New Hampshire, it was difficult for us to prove it,” to voters, he said, adding “Now, the process of proving it is underway.”

Buttigieg surpassed expectations last week by edging out Sen. Bernie Sanders for first place in the Iowa caucuses, though an official winner has not been declared. On Tuesday, Buttigieg secured second place in the New Hampshire primary; he was narrowly defeated by Sanders, who won the state in 2016 by 22 points against Hillary Clinton, and whose home state of Vermont borders New Hampshire.

Now, Buttigieg faces what could be his toughest primary challenge yet as the eight remaining Democratic candidates prepare for the next contests in Nevada and South Carolina — two states with large Latino and African American populations, respectively.

“This is an opportunity for us to demonstrate how, on everything from economic empowerment to delivering health care, to combating discrimination, reforming immigration and dismantling systemic racism, we can pull together and get big things done,” Buttigieg told PBS NewsHour.

Buttigieg also defended his mayoral record with black residents in South Bend. His actions on policing and housing in South Bend have received sharp criticism from some black activists and members of his community.

“The majority of black leaders from my community who have gotten involved in this race are supporting me,” Buttigieg said. “When you are a mayor, you don’t get to just opine on these issues or talk about what should happen. You’re on the ground trying to get things done.

More highlights from the interview:

  • On the DOJ lowering its sentencing recommendation for Roger Stone: Buttigieg responded to news that four career prosecutors on Tuesday quit the federal case against President Donald Trump’s longtime friend, Roger Stone. Stone was convicted in November of obstructing the Russia election interference probe. After prosecutors recommended a sentencing of seven to nine years in prison for Stone, the Department of Justice intervened, pushing for a shorter sentence. The move by the DOJ came shortly after Trump weighed in on Twitter saying the recommendation was unfair. Trump has said he was not in communication with the DOJ about the case. Buttigieg said the DOJ’s actions are “very serious.” “What kind of country is this if somebody can escape justice because the president or presidential appointee puts the squeeze internally on the process of delivering justice?” Buttigieg said. “This is not America. This is no way to run things.”
  • On distinguishing himself from other 2020 Democratic candidates: Buttigieg entered the 2020 presidential race in one of the party’s most crowded primary fields in history. Buttigieg said his goal is to be inclusive of all voters, no matter their political leanings. “I think the way that we have advanced to the front of that group is by offering a vision that’s not just clear in terms of policy, but establishing the sense of belonging in our campaign that reflects the belonging we want to build in the country as a whole,” Buttigieg said. “This is not the time for a politics of ‘my way or the highway.’ If your only choices are between a revolution and the status quo, that’s a vision that leaves most Americans out.”
  • On criticism of his campaign donations: Buttigieg has been criticized for holding fundraisers with wealthy donors. Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren have drawn a contrast between Buttigieg’s campaign funding and their own by touting their focus on small donors. Buttigieg noted the importance of building a base that can compete with Trump’s wealth. “I’m not defining my campaign by whose help we reject or who we turn away,” Buttigieg said. “In order to compete against a president and his allies who have raised astonishing sums of money in order to keep their grip on power, we need to go into this fight with everything that we’ve got.”

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Early this morning, I sat down with one of the success stories out of New Hampshire, former Mayor Pete Buttigieg, fresh off his very close second-place finish, and began by asking him to explain what happened in the Granite State.

  • Pete Buttigieg:

    Well, what happened is that, after a year of campaigning, we were able to show, not just tell, that we could put together an extraordinary coalition of voters, younger and older, urban, rural and suburban, coming together believing that we need to turn the page, that, in order to govern in the future, but also in order to beat Donald Trump, the time has come to set aside the politics of the past, look to the future, and deliver on bold changes that Americans can get behind.

    I see an opportunity right now to take some of the biggest steps forward that America has in a half-century, and, crucially, do it in a way that can actually unify, not divide, the American people.

    It's clear that, despite all of the odds and predictions, that vision was powerful enough to propel us to top two finishes in the first two states. Now the challenge is to go on to Nevada, South Carolina and beyond and continue growing that coalition.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    These are different states, a lot more diversity. Nevada has a Latino population, for example. They make up, I think, 20 percent of the Democratic primary.

  • Pete Buttigieg:

    That's right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    How do you appeal to them?

  • Pete Buttigieg:

    I'm very much looking forward to further reaching out and engaging with Latino voters and African-American voters in both Nevada and in South Carolina.

    That's part of our outreach strategy, part of our media strategy. And we have made sure throughout that we're offering policies that are going to make a difference in the everyday lives of diverse voters.

    This is an opportunity for us to demonstrate how, on everything from economic empowerment to delivering health care, to combating discrimination, reforming immigration and dismantling systemic racism, we can pull together and get big things done.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So are you saying your message doesn't change?

  • Pete Buttigieg:

    Well, the values don't change.

    We're not going to, you know, have one face forward to one set of voters and a different set — face forward in a different place.

    But it's certainly the case that different concerns are being raised. For example, in Nevada, we're hearing a lot more about concerns related to immigration and hearing a lot from union workers, including hotel and service workers, with hard-won, hard-fought battles to get their health care plans, who are not interested in Senator Sanders' vision of eliminating their private health care.

    We're also getting a lot of questions from black voters about a vision and an agenda for black Americans, at a time when we have seen all of the ways in which systemic racism has persisted and led to a different American experience for so many black Americans, on everything from how you experience the economy, to the health care system, to the criminal legal system, to our democracy itself.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You, of course, bring up South Carolina. African-American voters could be as much as 60 percent of the primary there.

    Right now, you are polling very low, 2, 3, 4 percent. That is a big leap for you, isn't it?

  • Pete Buttigieg:

    Well, that's exactly what we need to do.

    And what I have heard from a lot of black voters is that our plans are appreciated. The Frederick Douglass plan is the most comprehensive plan offered by a presidential candidate to tackle systemic racism.

    But before anybody cares what's in your plans, they want to know if you're a serious contender. And I think, up until we had the results we did here in Iowa and New Hampshire, it was difficult for us to prove it.

    Now the process of proving it is under way. And for voters who are laser-focused on ensuring that we win, who do not have the luxury of pursuing ideological purity over an inclusive coalition for victory, they are going to be, I think, very pragmatic and very demanding about demonstrating that the campaigns have a plan to defeat Donald Trump.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    As you know, there are parts of your record as mayor of South Bend where you have had difficulties with the African-American leadership in your community.

    Why shouldn't you expect your opponents to come after you, for there to be really tough questions now about how you deal with not just African-American voters, but the African-American power structure in the Democratic Party?

  • Pete Buttigieg:

    Well, I'm not just bringing receipts. I'm bringing allies.

    The majority of black leaders from my community who have gotten involved in this race are supporting me. And I will invite them on the trail with me to explain why, to tell our story.

    When you are a mayor, you don't get to just opine on these issues or talk about what should happen. You're on the ground trying to get things done. And, in the results that we have delivered, cuts to the black unemployment and black poverty rate faster than what happened around the country, national recognition for our work, real reform, and in the areas where we have major struggles and where we're continuing to push, we can talk about everything that went well and why and what we learned when things didn't.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Ideological purity, some people have put that label on Bernie Sanders.

    But the moderates in the Democratic Party who are searching, you have got a lot of competition. It's Amy Klobuchar. It's virtually everybody else in the campaign. How do you distinguish yourself?

  • Pete Buttigieg:

    Well, I think the way that we have advanced to the front of that group is by offering a vision that's not just clear in terms of policy, but establishing the sense of belonging in our campaign that reflects the belonging we want to build in the country as a whole.

    And let's be clear. The ideas that I'm putting forward are bold ideas. They would make me the most progressive president we have had in a half-century. But I'm also building them in a way that is inclusive. This is not the time for a politics of my way or the highway.

    If your only choices are between a revolution and the status quo, that's a vision that leaves most Americans out. And I think challenging that vision with a more inclusive one is how we have been able to get the results that we had both in Iowa and New Hampshire across different age groups, different kinds of communities.

    Now we take that message forward.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Money.

    Your opponents have come after you for spending a lot of time talking to millionaires and billionaires, raising money for your campaign. You're not a wealthy person. You have gone to others who are wealthy. There's every reason to believe they're going to continue to make that argument.

    Is there some other message you can give to the American people about how you are not dependent on the wealthiest to keep your campaign going?

  • Pete Buttigieg:

    I mean, look, the vast majority of my time is spent engaging voters.

    And the vast majority of the support for my campaign has come from the grassroots. We have hundreds of thousands of donors to this campaign, over two million donations, and I think the average is less than 40 bucks.

    We're following the fund-raising practices and holding ourselves to the same standards that Democrats and Democratic presidential candidates have, in order to make sure that we build a powerful campaign organization that will be prepared to go up against Donald Trump in the fight of our lives.

    I'm not defining my campaign by whose help we reject or who we turn away. In order to compete against a president and his allies who have raised astonishing sums of money in order to keep their grip on power, we need to go into this fight with everything that we have got.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Final question.

    In Washington, I'm sure you know, in the last day, a huge story about what's happened at the Justice Department. In the Roger Stone case, he was found guilty of lying, obstruction, sentenced to six to nine years.

    The attorney general, apparently, himself stepped in, reducing the sentence. It's not clear why this has happened, but four of the prosecutors in the case have now resigned.

    Should there be a special prosecutor? What should happen at this point? How serious a development do you this?

  • Pete Buttigieg:

    It's very serious.

    What kind of country is this if somebody can escape justice because the president or a presidential appointee puts the squeeze internally on the process of delivering justice?

    This is not America. This is no way to run things, although we're also, I think, not that surprised that a Trump administration, emboldened by the result after impeachment, thinks it can get away with this sort of thing.

    Ultimately, while I certainly believe there ought to be an investigation into how this happened, ultimately, I think the most likely remedy is the one that we're in the middle of pursuing right now. As I often remind voters, you know, last week, the Senate was the jury, but now the verdict is up to us.

    We, the American people, have the final verdict on this president, and an awful lot of the senators who protected this president. Let's make the absolute most of this moment and put together the majority that will win so big that not only is Trump a one-term president, but Trumpism goes into the history books, and even Republican senators are reunited with their conscience.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, just quickly, no special prosecutor? You wouldn't call…

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Pete Buttigieg:

    I think that would be appropriate. I would be astonished if it happens.

    But the bottom line is that there needs to be wholesale change. And in order to deliver that, we need a new president, and we need an awful lot of new congressional leaders.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Mayor Pete Buttigieg, thank you very much.

  • Pete Buttigieg:

    Good to be with you.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And we will look at the state of the Democratic race going forward a little later in the program.

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