Questions of Ideology, Transparency Rise to Fore In Democratic Primary Race

Dec 7, 2019

The question of how Democrats define themselves – beyond opposing President Trump – is one that New Hampshire primary voters will soon face.  And as primary day creeps closer, some leading presidential candidates are working to put their differences in sharper relief. And perhaps no two candidates better illustrate the different approaches to those questions than Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg, both of whom campaigned in the state Friday.

When he spoke at a house party in Concord Friday morning, Buttigieg defined that question in practical terms. He told voters packed in the living room that only certain kinds of Democrats have tended to made it to the Oval Office.

‘It’s been someone new on the scene, and had not run for president before, it was someone calling the country to higher values,” Buttigieg said. “It was someone not viewed as belonging to Washington, and it was someone who represented a newer generation of leadership.”

By midafternoon, Warren was in a Peterborough bowling alley, offering her own take on what Democratic primary voters should privilege.

“I’m not running a campaign that was shaped by consultants and that has carefully designed proposals that don’t offend big donors,” she said. “I passed that stop sign a long time ago. I’m running a campaign based on a lifetime of fighting for working families. I’m running a campaign from the heart.”

Credit Sara Plourde / NHPR

Questions of the heart and of the head, of ideological purity and electability – whatever that means in the age of Trump – are now top of mind for primary voters. Bow State Rep. Mary Beth Walz was at the Buttigieg house party and said she planned to see Warren later in the day.  She sees Buttigieg’s lack of experience as a problem but is also troubled by Warren’s commitment to Medicare for All as a potential problem in a general election, where such a proposal could be a tough sell in swing states.

“This race is going to come down to a half dozen states,” Walz said “So, it’s going to be Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio. If we don’t win those states we don’t win the presidency.”

Ken Barnes, who lives in Contoocook, was standing a few feet away. He said Democrats put unity at risk when candidates like Buttigieg opt not to back policies like Medicare for All.

“Pete and {Joe} Biden don’t stand up and say, ‘Yes, we are the Democratic party, and we believe in a country that supports all people,’” Barnes said. “I really wish that people like Pete and Biden would get onto that principle and then they can argue about the details.”

Healthcare has defined this race for months, but there are also fresh flashpoints – particularly between Buttigieg and Warren. Buttigieg’s time at consultanting firm McKinsey and Company is one. On Friday, he told a questioner at the Concord house party that he’d like to be more transparent about his work there.

“The bind I’m In right now is I believe in keeping my word, and I signed a legal document about client names,” Buttigieg said. “And I am calling on McKinsey to release me from that so that that client list can go out. Now it’s not like I was running the place, it was my first job out of school but I think the people deserve to know, especially when someone from that company is running for president.”

On that point, it appears Buttigieg and Warren agree. In Peterborough, Warren told reporters that Buttigieg should disclose his clients. She also repeated a line of attack against the South Bend mayor she first made Thursday: that he should be more transparent about his campaigns approach to fundraising.

“He need to make clear who’s raising money for him, who the bundlers are, and he should open up the doors to the press,” Warren said.

What’s now plain is that Warren and Buttigieg see each other as rivals. Whether the campaign tactics that fact inspires helps voters sift a shrinking – but still large –  field of Democratic candidates is a key question.