DECORAH, Iowa (AP) — Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg cast himself as the lone candidate who can “turn the page” on the politics of the past while campaigning in Iowa on Thursday, sharpening his criticism of top rivals Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders with just four days until the state’s kickoff caucuses.
Buttigieg pointed to Sanders’ attacks on Biden’s Iraq War position and decades-old statements on Social Security as evidence as evidence the Vermont senator was too focused on the past instead of the present.
“This is no time to get caught up in reliving arguments from before,” Buttigieg told more than 400 people in a refurbished hotel theater in northeast Iowa. “The less 2020 resembles 2016 in our party the better.”
It was a notably more aggressive tone from the 38-year-old former South Bend, Indiana, mayor, who has risen from an asterisk into contention in Iowa on a message of hope and inclusion. But as the clock winds down to Monday’s caucuses, Buttigieg cast Sanders, a Vermont senator who has projected confidence he will win the caucuses, as not only concerned with debates from more than a decade ago, but also as a candidate who could alienate voters seeking consensus.
“I hear Sen. Sanders calling for a kind of politics that says you’ve got to be all the way here, and nothing else counts,” Buttigieg said, “at the very moment when we actually have an historic majority not just aligned around what it is we’re up against but agree on what we’re for.”
Buttigieg also said Sanders’ attacks on the former vice president for supporting the measure that authorized the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq is backward-looking at a time of current tension between the United States and Iran.
“Look, I feel very strongly about the Iraq War,” said Buttigieg, Naval intelligence officer in Afghanistan who opposed the Iraq War as a college student. “But hearing arguments over who said what when in 2003 is besides the fact that this is 2020, and we’ve got to not only learn the lessons of the war in Iraq but to make sure we don’t get sucked into a war with Iran.”
Buttigieg reserved most of his criticism for Sanders but also jabbed at Biden’s argument for Iowans to avoid risk by going with a familiar, trusted figure.
“History has shown us the biggest risk we can take, with a very important election coming up, is to look to the same Washington playbook and recycle the same arguments and expect that to work against a president like Donald Trump, who is new in kind,” he said.
Polls show Buttigieg locked in a tight race in Iowa with Biden, Sanders and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
Buttigieg has blanketed the state in the past month and was wrapping up a weekslong tour of less-populous, rural counties where fewer of his rivals have campaigned as often.
And while Buttigieg faces enormous pressure to finish strong in Iowa to be credible moving forward against his better-known rivals, he would not say whether beating Biden or Sanders in Iowa was a must.
Nor did he say the stepped-up criticism of Biden and Sanders was evidence he’s slipping in the closing days of the Iowa campaign.
“We can tell we’re in a position to win. We can also tell that voters and caucusgoers are still in that decision mode,” he told reporters after the event in Decorah. “Well, we certainly need a strong finish in Iowa.”
“I’ll let pundits set up the goalpost,” he added.
Catch up on the 2020 election campaign with AP experts on our weekly politics podcast, “Ground Game.”