The muddle in the first-in-the-nation contest, where results were delayed by a technological breakdown, gave added salience to Tuesday’s primary in New Hampshire.
In introductory remarks before he took questions, Sanders read aloud a series of headlines about the 38-year-old former mayor. Depicting his rival as too cozy with big-money donors, Sanders telegraphed his line of attack against Buttigieg as the two compete to replicate their Iowa success in other early states.
“How do we feel when we have candidates in the Democratic Party right now — I’m reading some headlines from newspapers about Pete Buttigieg,” he said.
One described how Buttigieg “has most exclusive billionaire donors of any Democrat.” Another characterized the former mayor and management consultant as the party’s “big business candidate.” The Washington Post reported this week that the candidate, who began the race with next to no national name recognition, is “getting an even closer look from big-money donors following what some described as a surprising performance in the Iowa caucuses.”
Sean Savett, a spokesman for Buttigieg, pointed to the former mayor’s remarks Thursday on “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert,” when he said, “I'm not a fan of the campaign finance system we have today. I’m also a fan of beating Donald Trump.”
The episode speaks to the growing divide among Democrats — who lament the role of money in politics — over how to finance their own campaigns. Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts have sworn off high-dollar fundraisers, though each has transferred funds from previous bids, when their self-imposed restrictions were less strict. Sanders also draws backing from Our Revolution, a nonprofit founded by the senator that takes large donations without fully disclosing their source.
Still, small contributions have been at the heart of his campaign war chest, which brought in $25 million in January alone. Buttigieg, meanwhile, raised $2.7 million in the three days that followed Iowa’s caucuses, including from more than 22,000 new donors, his campaign told supporters in an email.
Sanders, speaking in Manchester four days before the New Hampshire primary, said the foundation of his financial base is distinctive — teacher is the most common profession among his donors — and illustrates his working-class support.
“Which side are you on?” he asked, adding, “Anyone remember old Woody Guthrie?”
He vowed not to break out in song.
“But we are in a moment where billionaires control not only our economy but our political life,” Sanders said, suggesting Buttigieg’s ability to lure billionaires meant his opponent would not break their grip on American government.
Buttigieg, for his part, has called for a constitutional amendment to reverse Citizens United, the 2010 Supreme Court decision that barred restrictions on election spending by corporations. Last year, in distancing himself from the label of democratic socialism, “the biggest problem with capitalism right now is the way it’s become intertwined with power and is eroding our democracy.”
When approached at a campaign event in December and asked whether addressing the role of money in politics meant no longer accepting donations from billionaires, the candidate answered flatly, “No.”
Buttigieg also had a message for his rival as they jostled to portray themselves victorious in Iowa.
Reacting during a CNN town hall on Thursday to a final tally by the Iowa Democratic Party that gave him the most state delegate equivalents — the figure traditionally used to declare a winner in the caucuses — he said, “It’s fantastic news to hear that we won.”
He added, “Senator Sanders clearly had a great night, too, and I congratulate him and his supporters.”
A Monmouth University poll released on Thursday showed Sanders and Buttigieg on strong footing in New Hampshire, at 24 percent and 20 percent, respectively, in a survey with a margin of error of four percentage points. Former vice president Joe Biden, who described his fourth-place finish in Iowa as a “gut punch,” registered at 17 percent, and Warren was at 13 percent.