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Buttigieg ramps up Super Tuesday organization as campaign faces critical next step

Updated 7:03 AM ET, Thu February 13, 2020

(CNN) - Pete Buttigieg is ramping up his Super Tuesday operation, aides tell CNN, committing to add more than five dozen staffers to the delegate-rich states that will vote in early March.

Buttigieg's campaign will begin to have people on the ground in each Super Tuesday state by Monday, aides said, where the campaign hopes the official staff will tap into a vast network of volunteers that they have helped organize in all 165 congressional districts in Super Tuesday states.

The increased investment comes as Buttigieg's operation, after notching strong finishes in both Iowa and New Hampshire, turns to Nevada, South Carolina and beyond.

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Buttigieg has long argued that performing well in the contests for the two predominantly white early states will help him win over notably pragmatic voters of color despite his months long struggle.

"There is an interest in who can win," Buttigieg told CNN in January about how his finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire would impact Nevada and South Carolina. "And making sure that there's a demonstration of being able to compete, to defeat this president, we need to demonstrate that.

Buttigieg now gets a change to test that theory.

The increased investment comes days after the Buttigieg campaign announced a six-figure digital ad buy in Minnesota, Michigan, Maine, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Virginia -- all Super Tuesday states -- and will be followed over the next two weeks with trips to California, Utah, Colorado, North Carolina and Virginia.

After contests in Iowa and New Hampshire, the race for the Democratic nomination will nationalize in the coming weeks, with a compressed calendar forcing candidates like Buttigieg having to balance their time and attention on stand-alone contests like Nevada and South Carolina and delegate heavy days like Super Tuesday.

Buttigieg, fueled by an early injection of money, began investing in Nevada early and the campaign announced Wednesday that they were doubling their 50-person staff to 100 people in the run up to the Nevada caucuses on February 22.

They also increased their ad buy in the state in the wake of New Hampshire's primary and have begun airing an ad contrasting his more moderate health care position with the more sweeping Medicare for All plan by telling voters Buttigieg believes "the choice should be yours."

In South Carolina, the campaign has 50 staff members of the ground and expects a host of organizers from Iowa to arrive in the state this weekend to begin the sprint to the state's primary on February 29. The state, where over 60% of the Democratic electorate is expected to be black, will be a test for Buttigieg, but the campaign's senior aides believe the mayor's ability to show he can win help voters give him a chance.

Looking to volunteers

Buttigieg has struggled mightily to win the support of Latino and black voters, two groups of voters that will play a central role to the Democratic nomination in the coming contests.

The issue is an existential one for Buttigieg -- and something that weighs on even the white supporters who backed the young mayor. Buttigieg was asked about his lack of black support multiple times by white questioners in the close of his Iowa campaign, and some Buttigieg supporters have said they feel his lack of diverse support cuts into his electability argument.

"I think leap in Iowa that a lot of people took in supporting him was really important," said Buttigieg senior adviser Michael Halle, "and that was a threshold component in being able to win support in subsequent states."

Central to the Buttigieg campaign's plans beyond those two states is a network of motivated, campaign-support volunteer groups, some of which meet every week, have regular contact with the campaign and send out newsletters to thousands of people every week in the Super Tuesday states.

While some of these groups began organizing shortly after Buttigieg launched his exploratory committee in January 2019, the campaign first began to reach out to them in May and formalized a larger five-person team to work with all the groups in July.

"To compete in all the states on Super Tuesday, you need a massive network of grassroots volunteers," said Samantha Steelman, the organizing director for all Super Tuesday contests. "For months, we have had a team that has been building that organization by harnessing the energy and grassroots momentum behind Pete and turning it into real organizing work."

Steelman said that professional staff deployed to these early states will provide more resources to these groups, as well as continue to train and guide what they believe is a network of over 25,000 volunteers in Super Tuesday states.

Collin McGann, a 35-year-old South Bend transplant in Colorado, began organizing the Colorado For Pete group in early 2019. He first realized there was interest in the former mayor when 90 people showed up to a watch party he held for Buttigieg's official announcement.

Since then McGann has organized a host of events in the state, including marching in Pride parades, the famous Tour de Fat bike parade in Fort Collins and a table at the Colorado State Fair in Pueblo. In total, more than 2,000 volunteers have signed up for a range of grassroots events.

The goal of Buttigieg's campaign is to amplify this work with funding and more organization.

"A lot of the volunteers and future volunteers like to hear that staff is on the ground," McGann said. "We are voting here in a few weeks, so it just helps with momentum."

Melani Schwartz, 28-year-old elementary school music teacher from the suburbs of Minneapolis, began working with the "Minnesota for Pete" group around his official launch in April. The group, since then, has begun to host events every week -- which they call Pete Ups -- and publishes a weekly newsletter about what Buttigieg is doing and how they can help.

Schwartz, who volunteered and was a delegate for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in 2016, got married to her wife in December, and said she "wedding planning while also Pete planning took a lot of my time."

"But it is worth it," she said. "It was really hard to take any steps back because right now this is where my passion is."

The campaign believes it is groups like those run by McGann and Schwartz that could make the difference when the nomination fight nationalizes and campaigns are unable to spend months building operations like they did in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Halle, Buttigieg's senior adviser, said that one of the former mayor's greatest assets in 2019 -- before he was able to raise millions -- was the people were "really excited about Pete and gave their time to work for him."

And with the Super Tuesday race being -- more than anything -- a race for delegates that will be awarded by congressional districts, Halle believes having activated locals on the ground could be their greatest advantage.

"I trust someone who is from Salt Lake City," Halle said, "to organize in Salt Lake City better than some new grad from wherever that has a beanie and Birkenstocks."


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