Washington — Former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg says it's "very important" for him to do well in Monday's Iowa caucuses but he'll leave it to others to define what success means.
"I'll leave that to the pundits," Buttigieg said on "Face the Nation" when asked if he must finish in the top two in the Hawkeye State. "It is, of course, very important for us to do well in Iowa."
Polls currently place Buttigieg slightly behind Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders in Iowa. Buttigieg's advisers have told reporters it isn't necessary for him to win in Iowa to prove he can be viable on Super Tuesday. Asked if his strategy is to skip ahead to Super Tuesday in a month, Buttigieg demurred, saying advisers and pundits will have their opinions while he's focused on campaigning and on improving the lives of everyday Americans.
"That's great. Campaign strategists will focus on that. I'm focused on Iowans' lives and a message about making sure that we not only replace this president but replace this president with somebody who is ready to deal with the issues from climate to gun violence to the changes in our economy that are deciding whether our lives are going to go well," he said Sunday. "We're counting on a good finish here in Iowa, going straight to New Hampshire and on to Nevada, South Carolina and the other states."
Buttigieg, who has struggled to earn support from minority voters, said he's going up against candidates who have had years to build relationships with voters.
"I'm competing against some candidates who have had years or decades to demonstrate who they are and why they can win," he said. "The process of proving that begins right here in Iowa."
Buttigieg passed up an opportunity to criticize the Democratic National Committee (DNC) for changing debate rules to eliminate donor thresholds, likely allowing former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg to participate. Buttigieg said he doesn't envy the DNC's role in establishing the debate criteria, and that he doesn't think the DNC is trying to rig the system.
"I don't see a thumb on the scale, if that's what you're talking about," said Buttigieg, who noted his campaign will take the rules as they come and he's "confident" he'll qualify in upcoming debates.
Buttigieg, who praised Sanders in his own writings growing up, said he still admires the Vermont senator, but emphasized the country needs to be energized, not polarized.
"I think I'm the best candidate to bring people together now," Buttigieg said.