“I share that concern,” Buttigieg bluntly told Michael Nash, a 65-year-old retiree from Las Vegas.
Buttigieg also took a veiled swipe at Michael Bloomberg, labeling the former New York mayor a “billionaire who thinks that you can just … buy your way on to television and win that way.”
The comments highlight the tension between Buttigieg and his Democratic rivals ahead of Wednesday night’s debate.
Buttigieg and Sanders have sparred more intensely ever since voting began in Iowa, where Buttigieg narrowly finished with more delegates ahead of Sanders. Then, in New Hampshire, Sanders beat Buttigieg. The two have since more expressly highlighted their differences — with Buttigieg often attacking Sanders for what he casts as being too unmoving and rigid with people who disagree with him politically.
A NPR/PBS/Marrist poll released on Tuesday found that Sanders leads President Donald Trump by 3 percentage points in a matchup, while Buttigieg leads the President by 2%. Biden leads the field, according to the poll, besting Trump by 6%. Bloomberg, meanwhile, beats Trump by 4%.
Buttigieg’s comments about Bloomberg are novel, but signal that the former South Bend mayor could be eager to go after the former New York mayor at Wednesday night’s debate. Bloomberg, who has spent hundreds of millions on his presidential campaign, qualified for his first Democratic debate on Tuesday.
“Look, Sen. Sanders … speaks to a lot of ideals that we all share. But right now, we’ve got to make sure we’re drawing as many people as we can into our coalition,” Buttigieg said. “And if the message goes out that your only choices are you’ve either got to be for a revolution, or you must be for the status quo, I don’t think most of us see ourselves in that picture.”
Buttigieg said that he believes most voters are “looking for something else, and a politics that says if you don’t agree with me 100% of the time you don’t even belong.”
Then the mayor took a veiled swipe at Bloomberg.
“If we get to a place where … we’re asking people to choose between revolution and a billionaire who thinks that you… can just buy your way on to television and win that way, just don’t think that’s speaking to where most of us are right now,” he said. “And this is an opportunity to build a different kind of politics, it’s about belonging. It’s about adding to our coalition, it’s not defined by who we can drive away.”
Neither the Sanders nor Bloomberg campaigns responded to a request for comment about the comments.
Buttigieg’s worries about Sanders reflect those of more moderate Democrats, many of whom have raised concerns about what having a self-avowed Democratic socialist atop the ticket would mean for down ballot House and Senate campaigns in parts of the country where being “socialist” is out of step politically.
Nash, in a conversation with CNN after the event, said that he appreciated Buttigieg’s answer and felt like the former mayor agreed with him.
“I think if Bernie Sanders is the nominee, Trump wins,” said Nash, who is a former Republican who said he left the party days after President Donald Trump won. The 2016 election. “He said in a diplomatic way … ‘Yeah, if that happens, Trump will win again.”
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