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Buttigieg plots risky delegate strategy to survive Super Tuesday

The narrowed approach also shines a bright light on Buttigieg’s cash crunch. The candidate spent more than he raised in January, and he urged his supporters last week to help him bring in $13 million before March 3 to stay competitive, a plea the campaign repeated in its recent memo. On Wednesday, Buttigieg’s campaign told…

The narrowed approach also shines a bright light on Buttigieg’s cash crunch. The candidate spent more than he raised in January, and he urged his supporters last week to help him bring in $13 million before March 3 to stay competitive, a plea the campaign repeated in its recent memo. On Wednesday, Buttigieg’s campaign told supporters in an email that it has reached about 40 percent of its goal — approximately $5 million raised in the last six days.

“The difficulty with Buttigieg’s strategy is that he doesn’t have the resources to sustain his campaign,” said Mark Longabaugh, a Democratic consultant who worked on Bernie Sanders’ 2016 primary bid and Andrew Yang’s now-finished presidential run. “It’s plausible for Bloomberg because he has unlimited personal resources, but if Buttigieg can’t get a checkmark next to his face for a state victory on Super Tuesday, then it’s really, really difficult for him.”

The TV advertising that Buttigieg has been able to afford sheds light on his priorities. He’s airing ads in some major metropolitan areas, like Denver and Minneapolis, but the majority of the places Buttigieg is targeting are smaller and cheaper, like Greensboro-Winston-Salem, N.C., Little Rock, Ark. and Bangor, Maine.

“Barring a few, most of these are markets where you can really stretch a dollar and cover a couple of congressional districts at once,” said Ian Russell, a Democratic media consultant.

Buttigieg’s personal schedule also clarifies his strategy. Next week, Buttigieg is planning to make stops in Dallas and Austin, Texas, two of the state’s biggest media markets, which also overlap with several suburban state Senate districts where Buttigieg could run up the score. (Texas allocates delegates by legislative districts, not congressional districts.)

“The district with the most delegates is Austin, and it’s the only place with a Democratic district that’s dominated by Anglos, and Pete does struggle with people of color,” said Matt Angle, a Texas-based Democratic operative who once led the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “Suburban Austin, suburban Dallas, even redder areas — those are places where Mayor Pete could do better.”

The same goes for California, where there are pockets the campaign is targeting with TV ads in Santa Barbara and a rally in San Diego next week.

“Pete has targeted opportunities in California,” said Doug Herman, a California-based consultant. But he “has to avoid the California trap,” Herman continued, “where he’s got a broad and available constituency that he can’t afford to communicate with, and instead find the states on the calendar that fit his profile.”

If Buttigieg is unable to reach the 15 percent viability threshold, that will cut him off from a sizable hoard of statewide delegates, even as he competes in congressional districts.

“I don’t know” if he’ll reach 15 percent statewide in Colorado, “but I’m going to try to help him do it,” said Colorado state Rep. Jeni James Arndt, another Buttigieg endorser. “Bernie’s doing really well here, and Warren, too.”

One national Democratic strategist who has worked on presidential campaigns questioned why Buttigieg wasn’t staking his claim on a handful of states that played to his demographic advantage, like Utah or Virginia, with higher concentrations of moderate-leaning or college-educated voters.

“Pick a place and try for a win. Otherwise, if you’re playing just to pick off delegates, then that’s what you say if you’re in trouble,” the strategist said, granted anonymity to discuss the issue candidly. “If it’s a math game, then you’re just doing it to be at the convention, and you’re not playing to win.”

In its memo, Buttigieg’s campaign pledged to “limit Sanders’ delegate lead to no more than 350 pledged delegates.” States on Super Tuesday account for about a third of the total delegates handed out in the Democratic presidential race.

“How many districts are each candidate hitting threshold and by what margin? To me, that’s the most important question on Super Tuesday,” said Michael Halle, an adviser to the Buttigieg campaign. “You gain the most efficiency by becoming viable.”

But even among his supporters, there’s a fear that Buttigieg’s best days in the presidential race already happened.

“We’re definitely worried about him not making it to Maryland,” which votes in late April, said Raina Chambers, a 49-year-old from Beltsville, Maryland, who saw Buttigieg speak in Arlington, Va., on Sunday.

Her husband, Michael Chambers, added, “but if Pete doesn’t make it, I’d be fine with Michael Bloomberg, too.”

“We’ve got to be practical,” Chambers added.

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