Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, whose poll numbers have lingered in the single digits this summer after a fast start earlier in the year, is going up with his first television ad—and will urge Iowans to resist the siren call of polarizing political messages.
“To meet these challenges and to defeat this president, we need real solutions, not more polarization,” Buttigieg says in the 30-second spot, which was obtained by The Washington Post.
While Buttigieg’s pitch is a direct criticism of President Donald Trump, it also comes as several rivals with liberal records, such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., have been outpacing the 37-year-old mayor of South Bend.
Buttigieg’s themes and presentation in the ad—ever calm, a fresh face from outside Washington seeking unity—have echoes of how President Barack Obama introduced himself to Democratic voters back in 2007 and 2008, during his first presidential run.
That overlap is perhaps unsurprising: consultants Larry Grisolano and John Del Cecato of AKPD Message and Media, who both worked for Obama’s campaign at the time and developed his paid media campaign, produced the ad for Buttigieg’s campaign.
In particular, Buttigieg’s ad underscores his focus on climate change, health-care costs, and safety, with “our kids are learning active shooter drills before they learn to read.” Its tone is serious: gentle piano notes play as Buttigieg narrates over images of him interacting with people with solemn and pained expressions.
The ad will begin airing in Iowa on Saturday. Iowa, the home to the Democratic race’s first caucuses next year, is where Buttigieg advisers have long hoped he could score early success since the Midwestern battleground has often given Midwesterners a boost. It’s also where his numbers have not moved much.
Buttigieg’s efforts reflect how important the state is to his strategy as the 2020 contest heats up. He has been to Iowa repeatedly this summer, drawing crowds of hundreds and sometimes thousands as he opens up more than 20 campaign offices throughout the state. Aides say his comfort in discussing his military experience, his mayoral work, and his Christian faith give him a path to victory, especially if better-known liberals end up clashing with each other.
Buttigieg’s first ad, titled “The Only Way,” begins with a reference to the Midwest, with a shot of Buttigieg in sunglasses and holding a rifle as a Navy Reserve intelligence officer in Afghanistan. The descriptor introduces him as “Indiana Democrat, Pete Buttigieg.”
“As a veteran and as a mayor, I’ve seen what we can achieve when we have each other’s backs,” Buttigieg says, speaking straight to the camera. “But in today’s divided America, we’re at each other’s throats.”
Buttigieg’s campaign so far has been marked by the enthusiasm of supporters who have embraced his generational arguments and donated nearly $25 million to his campaign in the second quarter, making him a formidable contender.
But Buttigieg’s rise has been undercut by a controversy in the city he leads: the shooting of a black man by a white police officer. The episode prompted Buttigieg to step off the campaign trail and raised questions about his stewardship of South Bend, which he has repeatedly cited as an asset.
Buttigieg has been informally previewing his ad’s message during a recent swing of media appearances. Speaking on CBS’s “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” this week, he said, “I admire others, but I’m not like the others.”
Buttigieg added, “It’s not just a matter of style. It’s also a matter of approach. It’s why I’m not making the same promises that some of the candidates to my left are. I share the goals and believe that we can do it in a way that will bring Americans together.”
The ad will air statewide in Iowa and run on broadcast and cable, and on digital platforms, Schmuhl said. He said the campaign is spending over $87,000 on the initial advertising buy in the Des Moines and Cedar Rapids markets.
Buttigieg has been frank about Iowa’s importance to his campaign.
“Iowa is central,” Buttigieg told CNN last month. “It’s the first chance to really prove everything we’ve been saying about how organized we are about the idea that what we have to say is winning with people across a range of voters and caucus-goers.”