The Democratic Party has seen a series of one-on-one clashes in the presidential primary in recent weeks: Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Sanders and former Vice President Joe Biden. Now, Biden and former South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg are at odds over their qualifications to take office.
It all came to a head when Biden released a campaign ad Saturday targeting Buttigieg’s record as mayor of the city of about 100,000, with a side-by-side comparison to Biden’s time as Barack Obama’s vice president, just days before Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary.
“When President Obama called on him, Joe Biden helped lead the passage of the Affordable Care Act, which gave health care to 20 million people,” a voice says on the Biden ad, before contrasting with Buttigieg’s record. “And when park-goers called on Pete Buttigieg, he installed decorative lights under bridges, giving citizens of South Bend colorfully illuminated rivers.”
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At another point, the narrator describes how both candidates have taken on “tough fights.”
“Under threat of a nuclear Iran, Joe Biden helped to negotiate the Iran deal,” the ad goes. “And under threat of disappearing pets, Buttigieg negotiated lighter licensing regulations on pet chip scanners.”
The ad started a verbal squabble between the two camps. Buttigieg’s campaign and mayors from other small cities accused the ad of taking a swipe at small cities and their elected officials.
Buttigieg’s national press secretary Chris Meagher suggested the ad was a form of “Washington-style politics” that “trivializes what goes on in communities like South Bend.”
“South Bend residents who now have better jobs, rising income, and new life in their city don’t think their lives are a Washington politician’s punchline,” Meagher said.
Biden’s digital director Robert Flaherty responded swiftly.
“Joe Biden of course recognizes the importance of investing in communities like South Bend, which is why the Recovery Act, which he implemented, sent $77 million to fund the revitalization of South Bend,” he said. In another tweet, he wrote, “This video now has more views than the population of South Bend.”
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Flaherty’s comment seems to have struck a nerve:
Dayton, Ohio Mayor Nan Whaley, wrote on Twitter, “I’m from Dayton, population 140,371. Are you saying voices from our towns don’t matter?” Her thoughts were echoed by Waterloo, Iowa, Mayor Quentin Hart, who added, “All communities matter whether small or large.” Both are Buttigieg supporters.
“What happens in our cities matter too,” tweeted Parkland, Fla. Mayor Christine Hunschofsky, who has endorsed Buttigieg. “This arrogant, disrespectful and dismissive tone is exactly what our country, our cities and our residents do not need.”
Senior adviser to Biden, Symone Sanders, tried to clarify Biden’s remarks while emphasizing his early years in local government.
“Let’s be really clear here, Joe Biden started life as an elected as a county councilman,” she said. “He knows the power of local government. So he knows what mayors CAN do. The question here is what HAVE you done and are you ready to be commander in chief on day one? Joe Biden is.”
Buttigieg split a victory with Sanders for state delegate equivalents in Iowa this past week. Biden came in fourth, also behind Warren. Meagher said the ad “speaks more to where (Biden) currently stands in this race than it does about Pete’s perspective as a mayor and veteran”
Biden and Buttigieg also sparred in a debate of old-versus-new in Friday night’s Democratic debate.
Buttigieg argued for a perspective that will leave behind the “politics of the past” and turn the page. Biden grinned while Buttigieg touted himself as not the right candidate if voters are looking for the person with the most Washington establishment experience, but the right candidate if they want a different perspective.
“The politics of the past were not all that bad,” Biden responded. He mentioned legislation he worked on to ban chemical weapons and fight violence against women. He also touted his early support for same sex marriage.
“I don’t know what about the past of Barack Obama and Joe Biden is so bad,” Biden said.
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Buttigieg also had to defend his record with black communities in South Bend at the Friday night debate in New Hampshire, when he was asked about arrests for marijuana possession.
He pointed to “systemic racism” as one of the reasons, but when pressed specifically about why marijuana drug arrests went up during the first year of his tenure, Buttigieg said that one of the strategies that his community adopted was to target gun violence and gang violence.