In this edition: Pete Buttigieg on the bus, a guide to today's many elections, and new polling that has left Democrats very confused.

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MASON CITY, Iowa — Pete Buttigieg was wrong, and he could tell you why. He was wrong, he told reporters on his weekend swing through Iowa, to suggest that the primary had become “two-person race.” He was wrong, he told audiences in Cedar Rapids and this smaller northern Iowa city, when he believed that President Trump really would “do that infrastructure stuff” he’d run on in 2016.

“He didn’t fool me on much, but he fooled me on this,” Buttigieg told a crowd of about 600 Iowans. “It’s popular, everyone wants it in both parties, it’s the right thing to do, and it boosts the economy. I thought he would do it so to boost the economy, so he could get reelected.”

It was faint praise, but it was exactly what some Iowa Democrats had come to like about the mayor of South Bend, Ind. Buttigieg's weekend swing through the state, a series of town halls connected by on-the-record bus rides, reintroduced the candidate as a cheerful policy nerd who wanted to think the best of Republicans.

“I just like the way he speaks,” said Andy Johnston, a 31-year-old attorney who'd brought friends along to show them what so impressed him about the 37-year-old mayor. “The way he talks about the other side, bringing them into the fold — talking about who you are, but not in a way that alienates half the country, right?”

Buttigieg, who has risen in Iowa polls after months of ads and in-person campaigning, first grabbed Democrats' attention as a sharp communicator who could outwit Republicans. Donors and voters perked up about his candidacy after a March town hall on CNN, where the young, gay mayor ripped into Vice President Pence as a “cheerleader for the porn star presidency,” a holy roller whose “interpretation of scripture is pretty different than mine.” 

The candidate still talks like that, sometimes. On Saturday, he brought a Decorah crowd to a standing ovation when he said anti-gay leaders of foreign countries would “have to get used to it” if he became president. But in Buttigieg's updated stump speech, Republicans are people who Democrats need to do business with. A Trump defeat would leave a “divided nation” behind. Some unnamed Democrats “get so wrapped up in the fighting that we start to think fighting is the point.” 

This new approach is an unsubtle contrast with Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, the other Democrat who has risen from single digits to serious contention in Iowa and who has sky-high favorable ratings comparable to, or better than, Buttigieg's. At the Liberty and Justice Celebration that kicked off the weekend, Warren used the word “fight,” in some form 20 times. Buttigieg used it eight times, to say that people were “exhausted” by fighting and wanted to think ahead, about unity.

“I don't think the world is broken up into good and bad people,” Buttigieg told reporters as his bus rolled from a 568-attendee town hall in tiny Waverly to a 276-attendee town hall in tinier Charles City. “I definitely don't think how you vote makes you a bad person or a good person.”

The result is a campaign that swerves away from the populism that has shaped the Democrats' post-2016 arguments about how Trump won. Other candidates have railed against trade deals, automation and executive pay; Buttigieg talks about creating new national service programs and giving incentives to small towns that invite immigrants to live there. Buttigieg's South Bend roots make up most of his argument about understanding Midwestern voters. That has become increasingly irksome to his rivals.

“The Denver public school district is 90,000 kids, and it’s a billion-dollar budget, which is about three times the size of a certain city in Indiana,” Sen. Michael F. Bennet of Colorado told Democrats in Indianola on Sunday.

But it has been working here for Buttigieg, who shares stories of nonpartisan victories in his state (“I have some passionate views on wastewater technology,” he said in Decorah) and then explains why Democrats can't win simply by promising to pick fights.

“It plays into this construct that says it's not bold unless you're alienating a lot of people,” he said. “I just don't think that's true. I mean, the amazing thing about this moment that we're living in is that we have a majority for incredibly bold policy reforms. And if you look at a lot of moments in U.S. history when we've undertaken bold reforms — I’m thinking about the New Deal, which best approximates some of what we're trying to do domestically now — there was not always consensus, but it was negotiation, it was process. It was not about not just smashing everybody who disagrees.”

Buttigieg’s stump speech avoids the list-making of former vice president Joe Biden or Warren, or the long run of policies — legal marijuana, total college debt forgiveness, national rent control — that Iowans hear from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). On the bus, where Buttigieg took any question, he tended to respond to a challenge on specific policy, like housing, with a briefly discursive answer about what could work after a negotiation that involved all parties and took communities into account.

In this weekend's New York Times-Siena poll, which was conducted before the “LJ,” Buttigieg clocked in at 18 percent overall in Iowa, in a statistical tie with Warren, Sanders and Biden. The older and more educated voters were, the more they liked Buttigieg. Among voters over 65, Buttigieg polled at 23 percent, close behind Biden, while the leading millennial candidate for president was at just 12 percent with voters his age or younger. Twenty percent of voters with college degrees backed Buttigieg, compared with 9 percent of voters whose education ended with high school. Just 15 percent of voters under 30 wanted a president to “bring politics in Washington back to normal.” Among voters over 65, support for a “back to normal” candidate was at 70 percent.

Buttigieg's policy preferences tended to sync up with the voters who liked him best. In that poll, 47 percent of voters without a college education “strongly” supported replacing the health insurance system with Medicare-for-all, compared with 31 percent of voters with postgraduate degrees. By a similar 17-point margin, voters with advanced degrees “strongly” preferred the creation of an optional government insurance plan, leaving private insurance in place.

“What I'm proposing we do is we take a Medicare-like plan and make it available for everybody to get on, as you want it,” Buttigieg said in Waverly. “But I'm not going to order you to take our plan if you prefer your private plan.” Implicit in that statement was that the people listening like, and can afford, their own private insurance.

As they filed in and out of his rallies, Buttigieg's supporters frequently cited his tone as the reason they'd swung his way. The candidate was inspiring to them, and unflappable. They liked Buttigieg, but perhaps more importantly, they could imagine voters they did not know — voters who would decide the election, in swing states — liking him, too.

“He's from the middle of America, but he doesn't engage in the stereotypes about how rural America is just corn and guns,” said Jon Spect, 33, as he waited for Buttigieg in Decorah. “It's more of an attitude than any specific policies.”

Buttigieg is trying to stoke those feelings without leaving any worry that he was capable of fighting Republicans. In a series of bus conversations with reporters, he was pressed on potential lines of Republican attack. Why, for example, did he not call himself a combat veteran, despite a seven-month deployment in Afghanistan?

“I don't use the term because for some people, combat veteran, that means you have a combat action ribbon,” Buttigieg said. “It kind of felt like combat when the rocket alarm went off. But I don't feel prepared to use that term for myself.”

Asked about how past Democrats had combat experience but were battered by accusations of cowardice anyway, Buttigieg was contemplative. He was volunteering for John F. Kerry's 2004 bid, he remembered, when the campaign office he worked at got a Band-Aid in the mail with a purple heart drawn on it, part of an effort to accuse Kerry of making up his war record. Buttigieg wanted to tell Iowans that he could work with Republicans and saw the good in everyone. But, yeah, sometimes, he simply needed to beat them.

“I think that was when I realized that you would think certain things to be sacred in politics, but they weren't,” Buttigieg said. “They weren't for the Bush campaign. I think that they just woke us all up to what can happen. And I think now, in the era of ‘fake news,’ when there is not just a vicious attack but a false attack, you have to push back even if you think it's absurd on its face, because not everybody gets to see the fact-check.”

READING LIST

“Pete Buttigieg drives for the middle ground between Biden and Warren,” by Holly Bailey and Amy B Wang

The ongoing battle for educated Democrats in Iowa, and the very different pitches they're hearing.

“Pete Buttigieg is an Iowa front-runner. Will that help him anywhere else?” by Astead W. Herndon

What a victory in an overwhelmingly white state would mean for a candidate lagging behind with black voters.

“Warren’s plan to pay for Medicare-for-all: Does it add up?," by Glenn Kessler

The Fact Checker's guide to the longest Plan yet.

“For Kamala Harris’ presidential hopes, Iowa is do or die,” by Melanie Mason

A humbler and more focused strategy comes into view.

“Study: Heavily minority precincts endured longer wait times to cast ballots in 2018,” by Amy Gardner

How the people who run elections have been shaping the electorate.

“Trump goes on offensive against Andy Beshear, Democrats in Lexington rally at Rupp Arena,” by Morgan Watkins and Phillip M. Bailey

The closing arguments in Kentucky.

“The lonely battle of the last Republican lawmaker from Northern Virginia,” by Marc Fisher

Tim Hugo, on the front line against Democratic advances in the suburbs.

IN THE STATES

It's Election Day, again, with an archipalego of states, cities and counties picking new legislators, governors and mayors or changing the way their democracies work with ballot measures. This isn't a comprehensive list of every vote happening today — it's more of a rundown of what both parties are watching and under-the-radar votes that could have long-term impacts. 

6 p.m. ET Polls will close in most of Kentucky, though 50 of the commonwealth's 120 counties are on Central Time, and their polls close one hour later. All of the state constitutional offices are at stake, and nothing else; Kentucky elects its legislature, now deeply Republican, in even-numbered years.

Democrats still can’t believe they lost to Gov. Matt Bevin four years ago, in a wave that nearly wiped out this year’s Democratic nominee for governor, Attorney General Andy Beshear. Bevin is less popular than the median Republican in Kentucky — he has waged dramatic and sometimes unsuccessful battles over education and access to Medicaid — but he has a number of advantages. There's the state's economy, which has grown in the past four years; there are social issues, such as abortion and trans rights, which are more politically treacherous for Beshear than for Bevin; and there is the popularity of President Trump, who came to the state yesterday for a final Bevin rally. 

The race has been competitive, but Bevin's campaigning (especially his defenses of the president) has erased what was a midsummer advantage for Beshear. Republicans, who hold five of the state's constitutional offices, are playing for all seven, with Mitch McConnell proteges Daniel Cameron bidding to be the state's first black attorney general and Michael G. Adams trying to flip the secretary of state's office.

Democrats recruited strong candidates to hold both, with former attorney general Greg Stumbo seeking a comeback by attacking Cameron's relative inexperience, and 2000 Miss America Heather French Henry running on her work with veterans. National Republicans have poured money into helping Cameron, with the GOP's national attorneys general organization outspending the Democrats' group by a 3-to-1 margin.

7 p.m. ET All of Kentucky's polls will be closed, but Democrats will be looking less nervously at Virginia, where the party has a shot at capturing the entire General Assembly for the first time this century. Republicans took control of the legislature in 1999, and Democrats have not held the governor’s mansion and the legislature since 1993 — when the party was far more conservative.

Democrats increasingly expect to pull this off, which they could do by flipping just two seats in the Senate and the House of Delegates; both parties agree that Republicans have caught up a little in the final weeks. But Republicans did not experience long-run benefits from the scandals that consumed the state's governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general; all three stayed in office, and Gov. Ralph Northam eventually recovered from the “blackface” story well enough to rejoin Democrats on the trail.

Republicans' problems were less extraordinary and more structural: The state is shifting away from them. On newly drawn maps, 11 Republicans (seven in the House, four in the Senate) hold districts where Hillary Clinton dominated in 2016 and where Northam and Sen. Tim Kaine won by even bigger margins. Democrats are in strong positions to flip the Tidewater-based 91st and 94th House Districts and the Northern Virginia-based 13th Senate district; doing so while losing nothing else would give them a majority in the House and a tied Senate with scandalized Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax breaking tied votes.

If Republicans are having a good night, there'll be close races in those districts and dogfights in the Democratic-held 85th House District; if it's turning against them, watch the 66th district, held by Republican House Speaker Kirk Cox.

8 p.m. ET Polls will close across Mississippi, where Republicans could control every state office for the first time since Reconstruction and build a true supermajority in their state legislature. Only one race is being hotly contested, with Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves (R) working to retain the governor’s office for the GOP and four-term Attorney General Jim Hood (D) trying to capture it.

The race is superficially similar to Kentucky's, but the antiabortion Hood is more conservative than Beshear, and the state's electorate has been more reliably Republican in state elections. (No Republican has ever won more than 55 percent of the vote in a Kentucky gubernatorial election; outgoing Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant cracked 60 percent in both of his races.) Hood also has won more elections than Beshear and used his strong personal brand throughout this campaign, showing off his guns and pickup truck in TV ads that brand Reeves as a Jackson insider.

But polling has found Reeves ahead of Hood, and the state's increasingly infamous “electoral college” — a Jim Crow-era law that requires candidates for governor to win a majority of both the popular vote and the state's House districts — give him an additional edge. The race might not be called today if neither candidate cracks 50 percent, but if Hood surprises and wins a majority, courts could step in to prevent the House from throwing the election to Reeves.

Democrats have lower hopes downballot. Hood has not thrown his weight behind Jennifer Riley Collins, a veteran and civil rights attorney who, if elected, would be the first black female attorney general in the South; Republican Lynn Fitch would be the first member of her party, and the first woman, to win the job since Reconstruction. Democratic state legislator Jay Hughes has run credibly for lieutenant governor but is a heavy underdog against Republican Delbert Hosemann, Mississippi's popular secretary of state.

Republicans could also expand their 14-seat Senate majority and 26-seat House majority. Doing so would give them veto-proof margins for the first time. And as in Kentucky, a change in the attorney general's office could add to the number of Republicans backing the Trump administration on big legal tests, such as the unpopular challenge against the Affordable Care Act.

There's much less at stake in New Jersey, where Democrats expect to hold or grow their supermajorities in the legislature. The Senate race in the 1st has got outsize attention, because it flipped from Barack Obama to Trump in 2016, and popular state senator Jeff Van Drew went to Congress in 2018. His replacement, Bob Andrzejczak, has distanced himself from national Democrats, even telling reporters he would not commit to supporting the party's presidential nominee. 

More interesting might be what's happening across the state line, in Pennsylvania, where counties and cities are picking new leaders. In Philadelphia, the Working Families Party is working to “end the Republican Party” by taking advantage of a loophole: Two seats on the city council are reserved for a “minority party.” Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who was endorsed by the national WFP, has endorsed Nicolas O’Rourke and Kendra Brooks in their quest to flip those seats; Democratic Mayor Jim Kenney, who is expected to win easily, has in turn endorsed Warren. Not far from Philly, Democrats are trying to complete their march through the suburbs by winning control of Delaware County, and Paige Cognetti, an Obama administration alum, is running for mayor as an independent in traditionally Democratic Scranton, after scandal brought down the city's previous mayor.

At this time, polls will also be closed across most of Texas, where Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner is seeking a second term, where voters will decide on a constitutional amendment to prevent a state income tax, and where special elections are being held in the 28th, 100th and 148th legislative districts. The last two are safely Democratic, but the 28th District covers part of Fort Bend County, with fast-growing suburbs and exurbs of Houston. Democrats did not bother contesting it for most of this decade, but last year they fielded a candidate who lost by just 8.4 points, as Senate nominee Beto O’Rourke and congressional nominee Sri Preston Kulkarni drove up turnout.

When the seat became vacant, Democrats began throwing resources behind Eliz Markowitz, while six Republicans filed for the seat. There will be a runoff if no candidate clears 50 percent of the vote. It's a race national Democrats are watching closely, though the Democrats about to head to New Hampshire will be watching the mayoral contest in Manchester: Joyce Craig, who won that office in a rout two years ago, is on the ballot again.

9 p.m. ET New Mexico's polls will close, and Albuquerque voters will decide whether to institute public campaign financing in the form of “democracy dollars,” a proposal backed by both Sen. Bernie Sanders and Julián Castro.

11 p.m. ET Polls will close (or, more accurately, mail-in balloting will end) in Washington, where voters could undo a ban on affirmative action that passed in 1998. In Seattle, presidential candidates have intervened in the city's elections on behalf of liberal and socialist candidates who are being opposed by an enormous investment from Amazon. (Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

IMPEACHMENT WATCH

The latest on the impeachment inquiry

AD WATCH

Pete Buttigieg, “Sun Comes Up.” The Indiana mayor has run more ads in Iowa than anyone not named Tom Steyer, and he's the first Democrat to cut a clip from Friday's Liberty and Justice Celebration, with unbeatable optics. The speech, and ad, capture the tightest version of his new stump speech: He asks voters to think about the "first morning" in a country where Donald Trump is not president, then ask if they really want a new president to get into brawls all the time.

“I will never allow us to get so wrapped up in the fighting that we start to think fighting is the point,” Buttigieg says. He's not the first candidate to work this theme, but he's the first to do it on the air, as Democrats begin paying closer attention.

POLL WATCH

2020 presidential election (Washington Post/ABC News, 876 registered voters)

Joe Biden — 56% ( 1)
Donald Trump — 39% (-1)

Elizabeth Warren — 55% ( 4)
Donald Trump — 40 (-4)

Bernie Sanders — 55% ( 3)
Donald Trump — 41% (-3)

Pete Buttigieg — 52% ( 5)
Donald Trump — 41% (-2)

Kamala D. Harris — 51% ( 1)
Donald Trump — 42% (-1)

Democrats, burned in so many ways by their 2016 experience, are growing less excited about national polls and more interested in state-by-state surveys. That's why Monday's numbers from the New York Times/Siena poll, which found every Democrat in a dogfight to win the Midwest, sparked a full-on liberal panic. That's why these numbers won't ameliorate the panic. What they do so show is slippage among independents, who are increasingly positive about all their non-Trump options, even as voters in the Midwest remain more supportive of the president. 

Has the president made progress on “draining the swamp,” or has he made it worse? (Monmouth, 908 adults)

Made it worse — 37% ( 5)
Made progress — 30% ( 7)
Nothing has changed — 25% (-10)

The president's impeachment strategy has synced up with his overall political strategy: branding his opponents as politically illegitimate, people who want to throw out his 2016 electoral college victory because they hate him. That has kept his supporters lined up behind him and helped him continue to define “the swamp,” an amorphous concept he latched onto in 2016, as the enemies of his agenda. Democrats have tried to define it differently, as corruption and self-dealing. As impeachment rolls forward, Trump's got the short side of the stick: By a 2-to-1 margin, voters either think the “swamp” has survived Trump or that he has actually made Washington worse.

2020 Nevada caucuses (The Nevada Independent, 600 Democratic voters)

Joe Biden — 29%
Elizabeth Warren — 19%
Bernie Sanders — 19%
Pete Buttigieg — 7%
Tom Steyer — 4%
Kamala D. Harris — 3%
Amy Klobuchar — 3%
Andrew Yang — 3%
Julián Castro — 1%
Cory Booker — 1%
Tulsi Gabbard — 1%
Marianne Williamson — 1%

This outlet's first poll (conducted by the Mellman Group) finds no advantage whatsoever for the race's only Latino candidate, none for its two Californians (Steyer and Harris), and none for the candidate who appeals most to conservative voters (Gabbard). Instead, the race mirrors what's been happening nationally: a split liberal vote for Warren and Sanders, and a lead for Biden that looks tantalizingly unstable to the candidates polling in single digits. (Just two-thirds of Biden's voters say they “strongly” support him, while four-fifths of Warren and Sanders supporters strongly support those candidates.) And just as we've seen nationally, Biden leads easily with nonwhite voters, followed by Sanders and Warren, while Buttigieg is nowhere: More nonwhite voters just don't know who he is.

2020

Julián Castro. He picked up nine endorsements from Texas legislators who had originally supported Beto O'Rourke, the biggest coup for any Democrat since the former congressman quit the race. At the same time, Castro is formally parting ways with his New Hampshire and South Carolina staff as he stops contesting those states.

Tom Steyer. His deputy state director for South Carolina resigned after admitting he'd tried to access data from Kamala Harris's campaign.

Joe Biden. His campaign emailed donors about Monday’s New York Times/Siena polls, which found him running slightly better in the Midwest than Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren. But the email altered the results slightly, incorrectly marking one Sanders result where he did a bit better than Biden. The campaign told the Times that future emails would be corrected.

Elizabeth Warren. She released an updated plan for veterans ahead of Veterans Day, including pay increases, an end to a tax loophole that hurts military widows, and investment in the Veterans Affairs health-care system that clarifies that Medicare-for-all would not change it.

Bernie Sanders. He came out against a proposed anti-homeless ordinance in Las Vegas, promising to “stop the criminalization of homelessness and spend nearly $32 billion over five years to end homelessness once and for all.”

COUNTDOWN

... eight days until the cutoff for the fifth Democratic debate
... 11 days until Louisiana's runoff elections
... 15 days until the fifth Democratic debate
... 90 days until the Iowa caucuses
... 98 days until the New Hampshire primary