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Pete Buttigieg’s Super Tuesday Survival Plan Goes Back To The Grassroots Basics

Buttigieg needs more cash, but in the meantime his campaign is turning to an army of volunteers to keep him competitive with Bernie Sanders.

Posted on February 27, 2020, at 6:00 a.m. ET

Alex Wong / Getty Images

CHARLESTON, South Carolina — Pete Buttigieg, whose presidential campaign was a surprise fundraising machine in the lead-up to 2020, is counting on a stripped-down, grassroots-driven style of organizing to keep his candidacy alive in and after next week’s Super Tuesday primaries.

Campaign plans shared with BuzzFeed News call for more than 30,000 volunteers to lead get-out-the-vote efforts for contests across 14 states Tuesday, including more than 700 voter contact events.

The campaign also has deputized volunteers to launch a “digital door-knocking” program, using data scraped from Twitter, to target followers of the @PeteForAmerica account who live in Super Tuesday states via direct messages and encourage them to canvass their neighborhoods. And, as part of a previously announced seven-figure advertising push on TV and digital, Buttigieg’s team is placing state-specific, amateur-style videos starring local supporters on Facebook and YouTube. (“I just wanted to take this time to tell you that I can’t think of any time in my 27 years of voting where I have been this excited about getting behind a candidate for president of the United States,” Jay from Oklahoma says in one that appears to have been self-filmed in a car.)

It’s somewhat of a reversion for Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana. When he entered the race a little more than a year ago, he was unknown nationally and relied on volunteers to amplify his message. After his breakout performance at a CNN town hall last March, a grassroots network initially shouldered the organizing and fundraising load. He then catapulted into contention, culminating this month with a strong performance in the Iowa caucuses, where he appears to have won the race for delegates, in results subject to a recount. (Bernie Sanders won the popular vote and, like Buttigieg, has claimed victory.)

But Buttigieg didn’t get the fundraising boost he hoped for after that frontrunning performance. Things have flattened to the point where his campaign announced last week that Buttigieg needed to raise $13 million before Super Tuesday to be competitive in those contests. California and Texas, with their large population centers and pricey media markets, have the most delegates up for grabs next week. A dozen other states and American Samoa also vote then.

It’s not totally clear how close Buttigieg is to reaching his cash goal. A campaign email to supporters after Tuesday’s debate in South Carolina said Buttigieg was about 40% there — or about $5.2 million toward the goal.

“Every time we’ve laid out a vision to our supporters about how we win, they’ve responded with the resources we need to make it happen,” Ben Halle, a Buttigieg spokesperson, said when asked if the grassroots-heavy Super Tuesday plan suggested confidence in hitting the goal. “For get-out-the-vote efforts, we're investing in our strong grassroots volunteer networks to mobilize voters and strategically getting Pete's message of unity out on the airwaves and online."

First Buttigieg has to get past Saturday’s primary in South Carolina, where aides are bracing for a showing outside the top three, given how low he’s polled among black voters here. But after finishing a distant third behind Sanders and former vice president Joe Biden in last week’s Nevada caucuses, Buttigieg has argued he’s the candidate best positioned to build a coalition that can beat Sanders, whose profile as a democratic socialist worries some party leaders. And in a memo this week, his campaign lowered expectations for Super Tuesday, preparing supporters not for a bunch of wins but for a bunch of delegates that could slow Sanders.

“Our goal is to minimize Sanders’ margins on Super Tuesday and rack up delegates in the March 10th and March 17th contests, which are much more favorable to us,” the memo stated.

“Bernie Sanders will be the delegate leader after the March 3rd contests, but whether that makes him the prohibitive nominee is highly dependent on Pete’s performance.”

In addition to the grassroots measures, Buttigieg also plans to deploy more than 20 surrogates in at least a dozen Super Tuesday states, including Virginia, where he has the backing of Rep. Don Beyer. He also will lean on campaign cochair Anthony Brown, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus from Maryland, and fellow mayors and former mayors such as Nan Whaley of Dayton, Ohio, and Annise Parker of Houston. Buttigieg himself is scheduled to travel to North Carolina, Texas, Oklahoma, and California in the coming days.

"We are building the campaign that will not only win the nomination but will defeat Donald Trump in November. We know Pete’s message is resonating across the country — voters are tired of the politics of division and dysfunction,” said Samantha Steelman, the campaign’s Super Tuesday organizing director. “And Pete is the candidate offering bold solutions to our country’s greatest challenges in a way that actually unites the country. To propel Pete to the nomination, we’re running a first-of-its-kind GOTV program that combines digital organizing, paid media, and boots-on-the-ground organizing to reach millions of voters ahead of Super Tuesday.”

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