Scrambling to salvage his presidential campaign, Joe Biden escalated his criticism of Pete Buttigieg on Saturday, mocking Buttigieg’s experience as a small city mayor and cutting down the comparisons Buttigieg has drawn to the last Democratic president, declaring: “This guy’s not a Barack Obama.”
Biden’s biting attacks on Buttigieg’s relatively thin resume mark a new, more aggressive attempt to slow the momentum of the youngest candidate in the Democratic field. The 38-year-old emerged from Iowa in an effective tie with Sen. Bernie Sanders, but faces questions about whether his eight years as mayor of South Bend, Indiana — a city of about 100,000 people — prepared him for the presidency.
“I do not believe we’re a party at risk if I’m the nominee,” Biden told voters in Manchester. “I do believe we’re a party at risk if we nominate someone who has never held a higher office than the mayor of South Bend, Indiana.”
Buttigieg also faced criticism from Sanders, who said he had billionaires “by the dozens” contributing to his campaign.
“If you’re serious about political change in America, change is not going to be coming from somebody who gets a lot of money from the CEOs of the pharmaceutical industry,” Sanders said.
Both Sanders and Buttigieg appear in strong position in New Hampshire ahead of Tuesday’s primary, while Biden has conceded he expects to take a “hit” in the state.
Biden’s campaign is urgently trying to recalibrate, shaking up its senior leadership and signalling that the former vice-president won’t go down without a fight. On Saturday morning, the campaign posted an online video attacking Buttigieg that was one of the harshest intraparty broadsides of the Democratic primary.
The 90-second video compares Biden’s record as vice-president with Buttigieg’s service as mayor. While Biden helped President Barack Obama pass sweeping health care legislation and orchestrate a bailout of the auto industry, the ad says, Buttigieg was installing decorative lights on bridges and repairing sidewalks.
Buttigieg’s inexperience is among his chief vulnerabilities as he pitches voters on his preparedness for the Oval Office. He’s argued that his tenure as mayor, particularly of a Rust Belt city, gives him a better feel for the concerns of voters Democrats need to win back in 2020. But he has not yet had to defend the substance of his record against the kind of specific attack Biden launched.
His campaign accused Biden of trivializing the work that goes on in small cities across the country, and of political desperation. The campaign also highlighted criticism from other mayors around the country who said Biden was denigrating the importance of small cities.
Buttigieg himself also issued a sharp retort Saturday night at a Democratic Party dinner in Manchester: “Americans in small rural towns in industrial communities and in pockets of our country’s biggest cities are tired of being reduced to a punchline by Washington politicians and ready for somebody to take their voice to the American capital.”
Buttigieg’s calls for generational change and his criticism of Washington has irked some of his rivals, including Biden, who has accused the former mayor of undercutting the work of the Obama administration.