DECORAH, Iowa – With four days until Monday's Iowa caucuses, former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg is ramping up his rhetoric and taking direct shots at two of his top rivals for the Democratic nomination, former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.
Buttigieg has tried to position himself as the candidate who can offer bold policy proposals while also unifying the country. His attacks on Biden and Sanders come as recent pollsbehind Biden and Sanders, albeit narrowly.
"I hear Vice President Biden saying that this is no time to take a risk on someone new," Buttigieg said Thursday at a town hall in Decorah. "But history has shown us that the biggest risk we could 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."
Buttigieg then pivoted to Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist who favors "Medicare for All" and free college tuition at public universities. Buttigieg's campaign has also recently sent out fundraising emails that say nominating Sanders would be a "risk" at a time when Democrats are desperate to reclaim the White House from President Trump.
"I hear Senator Sanders calling for a kind of politics that says you got to go all the way here and nothing else counts," Buttigieg continued. "And it's coming at the very moment when we actually have a historic majority, not just aligned around what it is we're against, but agreeing on what it is we're for."
Buttigieg has remained in the top tier of Democratic presidential hopefuls in early state polls, although his position may have slipped since the start of the year. The most recent Des Moines Register poll found him to be the first choice of 16% of likely Iowa caucus-goers while Sanders was the first choice of 20%. The same poll in November found Buttigieg leading the Democratic field in the state with 25% support.
The millennial veteran has acknowledged in recent weeks that he needs to "show versus tell" that he's the best candidate to face Mr. Trump with strong showings in Iowa and New Hampshire, which holds its first-in-the-nation primary on February 11th. He hopes that a solid finish in the first two contests will help him compete in Nevada and South Carolina, where is currently polling well behind Sanders and Biden.
While maintaining that the current campaign should not focus on re-litigating past issues, Buttigieg did reference the ongoing spat between Sanders and Biden over Social Security. The Vermont senator hasin the past, a charge the former vice president's team disputes.
"This is no time to get caught up in reliving arguments from before," Buttigieg said. "The less 2020 resembles 2016 and our party, the better."
After his town hall in Decorah, Buttigieg told reporters he is trying to clarify to caucus-goers what he stands for.
"We're competing," Buttigieg told reporters. "It's a respectful but important competition, about what the best approach is going to be. I admire and respect everybody running for president, but we've got to make sure that we win."