The “Mayor Pete” phenomenon is not something that happened by chance. His campaign’s success stems from the extensive exposure gained from his relationship with the media.
This is due in large part to the work of his Senior Communications Adviser and renowned political operative, Lis Smith.
In fact, Smith’s exact strategy was the namesake for an article in Politico: “I Want Him on Everything.” For a politician, it might seem as though interviewing with TMZ, Teen Vogue or BuzzFeed is beneath them or might lessen their credibility. However, it does the opposite. Giving Buttigieg the platform to reach such diverse audiences has boded well for him. Instead of only resonating with news buffs or South Bend, Indiana residents, Buttigieg has been able to expand his base through his team’s manipulation of routine press coverage.
In this same article Smith explains why people, specifically politicians, have to be willing to break the status quo.
“People get stuck in a rut because something worked last cycle, and so they think it will work this cycle and it doesn’t,” Smith explained to Politico reporter David Freelander. “You have to know the social media ecosystem, how people are sharing and consuming their news.”
Additionally, downplaying the importance of reaching entertainment media consumers could prove detrimental to candidates in modern America, as the intersection of news and entertainment is becoming increasingly perceived as dignified.
While Buttigieg has the ability to resonate with young people, he has specifically garnered support among more well-educated voters. Of course, if he can continue to capitalize on the Midwestern roots that set him apart from the other top tier candidates and convey himself to the public as the most viable option to defeat Trump, the demographics of his supporters will continue to diversify.
In an era where Twitter serves as the main news source for some, where information spreads instantaneously, and when a moment of recognition is often immediately overshadowed by the next segment in a news cycle, the ability to consistently keep Buttigieg in the spotlight as a legitimate candidate is one of the main reasons he has made it thus far.
Although Buttigieg’s advisers have adopted more of an unconventional approach to gaining voter support, one of the major milestones in his campaign was marked by his simulation of the late John McCain’s “Straight Talk Express.”
Charlotte Alter, reporting for Time, was a member of the press riding on the “Buttigieg Bus,” and reported on her experience in an article for the magazine titled, “Four Days. One Candidate. Welcome Aboard the Buttigieg Bus.”
Alter emphasized the precarious relationship between politicians and the press stating, “the press are like hyenas, happiest when fed, and avoiding engagement with them can turn an already adversarial relationship into a hostile one.” The very act of allowing the media’s commanding presence to have full access into Buttigieg’s campaign, let alone his personal life, speaks to the level of success within the campaign he set his sights for.
The boyish charm Buttigieg exhibits definitely serves as his strategic marketing vantage point. Being able to advertise himself as a millennial, a Navy veteran who served in Afghanistan and someone who is deeply entrenched in the ‘easy-going’ Midwest culture, makes him palatable to more than just Democrats.
According to a RealClearPolitics poll, Buttigieg was polling at less than half a percent in February of 2019. Fast forward to now, he currently polls at an average of 5.8 percent, placing him among the top four candidates in the Democratic primary race.
However, in a Suffolk/USA TODAY poll published on Monday, Pete has jumped up 7 points to 13 percent from just 6 percent in June among Iowa voters. This significant increase places him at third, following Biden at 18 percent and Warren at 17 percent, just 105 days before the Iowa caucuses.
The current trajectory of the polls suggests Mayor Pete will continue to gain support as an alternative to the more progressive Democrats currently dominating the polls.
Mayor Pete’s traction on the campaign trail is a product of meticulous calculation paired with the exploitation of the media. Without the unique strategy employed by Buttigieg’s campaign team, his bid for the 2020 presidency would have died before it had even begun.