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Pete Buttigieg sits down for one-on-one interview with WIS ahead of polls closing in South Carolina

Updated: Feb. 29, 2020 at 9:31 PM EST
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - He claimed victory in Iowa, squeaked out a tight second-place finish in New Hampshire, and slipped to third in Nevada. But in the “First in the South” Primary in South Carolina, former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg consistently polled in the bottom tier at fourth and fifth place.

Those numbers mirror his distant finish in South Carolina on February 29. Before the results came down, Buttigieg was in the WIS studios Saturday to talk about the race, the issues, and his candidacy. We asked him about how his campaign is feeling in terms of momentum heading into Super Tuesday and beyond.

Buttigieg was optimistic. He said energy is high to find the alternative to Bernie Sanders. He said, with the second-highest delegate count, he is the candidate to do just that. With Biden’s projected South Carolina win, however, that changes the delegate lineup with Biden taking the second-place spot over Buttigieg as the second-in-line to Sanders.

The former mayor turned presidential candidate was critical of the Sanders “revolution,” citing the need to bring Americans together instead of gathering a faction that creates divisiveness. He also talked about the difference between Senator Sanders’ Medicare For All plan, vs. his own Medicare for “all who want it” plan.

“It’s much more affordable than the 30 or 40 trillion dollar price tag that’s been associated with Senator Sanders’ plan,” said Buttigieg. “Mine is fully paid for, provided we take two steps. One is to roll back the Trump corporate tax cut that benefitted corporations and the wealthy and added to the deficit. The other is a very common-sense step that many Americans think we should’ve done a long time ago. And that is to finally allow Medicare to negotiate the prices of prescription drugs with those pharmaceutical companies that have too much power in Washington today.”

Buttigieg told WIS that his battle in South Carolina was always going to be an uphill one. He knew that some campaigns had the funds to make a big run - a slight toward businessman Tom Steyer - and that some campaigns had time on their side. He mentioned former Vice President Joe Biden on that charge by name.

"I know that the vice president has built an advantage here in South Carolina that he's been building for decades,” said Buttigieg. “And many of my competitors who are doing well here either have the benefit of decades of visibility or billions of dollars that they can spend to make up for it. What I know is that our campaign emerged literally from scratch. We had four people on the team when I started this a year ago. I think we're going to head into Super Tuesday with a lot of strength. Voters, in the end, are going to make the decision. And my job is to go out eye to eye and ask those voters for their support."

The former mayor’s campaign has eyes on Super Tuesday, making a big 72-hour push toward the 14 races on March 3. Coming into South Carolina, Buttigieg knew it would be difficult to win over the African American vote. Many critics have cited his mixed record on race as South Bend’s mayor. We asked him how he approached a majority African American electorate in the Palmetto State.

"I think the most important thing has been to be honest about what I don't have in terms of lived experience,” said Buttigieg. “When I'm reaching out to black voters in particular, I'm asking for the vote of those who have felt taken for granted again and again and again as politics as usual. And rightfully, have a very high bar before they're going to trust a new face coming on. I worked and am continuing to work that we earn that support but I recognize it isn't going to come overnight."

The former South Bend mayor was upfront about that struggle. Among many policy objectives, Buttigieg has proposed the Douglass plan, which is named for abolitionist Frederick Douglass. Buttigieg said it is a comprehensive investment in the empowerment of black America. It includes expanding access to affordable housing, ensuring access to clean water and air and ending racist gerrymandering.

The mayor held town halls in Nashville, Tenn. and Raleigh, N.C. on the night the S.C. primary results were announced. He is scheduled to crisscross the country over the next 74 hours leading up to Super Tuesday and has events scheduled beyond that.

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