In which I judge Pete Buttigieg’s email
South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg is many things:
A combat veteran
Younger than I am
Good at convincing some people that his brand of right-of-centrism is what America needs
… sender of a shitty email
Other people have written at whatever length about the first four items on that list. If you want to see what they’ve said, go here. I’m here today to discuss an email one of Pete’s people sent that, on a scale of 1 to Amy Klobuchar, is at roughly “ick” level. It’s of course below the highest possible rating — in which the main event throws her comb salad at you — but it’s distinctly above Joe Sestak’s occasional “I’m still running, damnit!” missives.
The email has a few goals. They are to: introduce us to Greta Carnes, Pete’s national organizing director; get us thinking Pete’s campaign is doing well; ask for money; do more cheerleading; ask for money again.
First, Greta. She is a former Hillary staffer. Here’s the Hillary email she sent in 2016:
Before Greta joined Pete’s team, she worked with Hillary, Obama, Alison Lundergan Grimes and a few other campaigns. She’s 25, which I infer from her 10-plus years of work and her work as a 15-year-old on Obama’s campaign. And again, she’s national organizing director, not campaign manager, as this list shows, so in case anyone wanted to cheer for another woman who’s running a campaign, she ain’t doing that.
None of this background seems disqualifying to me, nor need it — working for Hillary (for whom I have zero love, owing to her decades of work pushing policy that hurt people) is something I’m sure got her lots of experience, and Hillary’s was the big campaign three years ago.
So the first part of the email — the sender — is relatively straightforward and noncontroversial, as far as I can tell.
You are about to miss it like you miss your mother’s chicken soup.
The email opens thus:
The greeting is both casual and exciting, as if starting with a 25-year-old’s energy. I am mumble years separated from 25, and how much do I miss that energy? I’ll tell you once I get done with my Metamucil and post-midafternoon-nap nap.
The energetic opening — complete with exclamation point! — leads to more energetic writing, with “special,” “excitement,” “enthusiasm” and “eager” establishing that she is one exuberant campaign staffer. She even uses another exclamation point, in case you had already come down from the peppiness of the first one.
If you are not already exhausted from all that cheerleading, I envy you.
That cheerleading is not at all problematic, though. It’s good. Having energy is good. Being excited is good. If Greta were not excited — if she were emailing with all the joie de vivre of a Van Gogh painting —
then I would be deeply worried. Campaign workers are paid to have energy even when they are announcing that they were recently shot in the face while on a bad idea of a hunting trip.
The “facts” behind that cheerleading, though, …
- “We had the MOST enthusiastic supporters at the Steak Fry in Des Moines.”
Please, no. There’s energy and there’s unprovable opinion. I bet Amy’s people would publicly say she had the most enthusiastic supporters. (We certainly know what they’d say privately.) An easy way to promote your campaign showing in an honest way — without looking silly — is to say your supporters were amazingly enthusiastic at blah blah blah. Then link to this as proof. It’s campaign pornography, and it looks to be by a non-Stan.
2. “More than 600 people stood in the cold and rain to see Pete in Waterloo and another 1,000 (!!!) in Davenport.”
This takes us to five exclamation points in eight lines. But that’s not the problem.
“More than 600,” particularly in the cold and rain, sounds impressive enough until you learn that Waterloo’s population is almost 68,000. And the venue — the RiverLoop Amphitheatre and Arts Mall, as reported by the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier — seats 1,200.
A half-full venue in a city a hundred times as big as the audience … enh. Doesn’t quite justify the excited language in the email.
The Davenport rally is less deflating of an event to research.
You could argue that for the Davenport event, Pete chose a venue with limited capacity so that the relatively small crowd wouldn’t seem that small, but you would be wrong. Pete spoke in that venue not because he couldn’t draw 2,000 people but because he was participating in a forum held at that venue. And in case you’re wondering, Eric Swalwell was the forum’s first guest, and the place where he spoke holds up to 500 people. John Delaney was the forum’s second guest, and he spoke in the same location, though it’s likely that far fewer people attended his talk. Bernie hasn’t held his forum yet, but his forum four years ago went pretty well (though not as well as Pete’s).
3. “On a weekday afternoon in Elkader, a county Trump won in 2016, we held a town hall that was attended by more people than the county’s total population.”
In Greta’s defense, perhaps the phrasing was supposed to be “in Elkader, in a county Trump won.” But the phrasing isn’t that. It’s something else. And it’s nonfactual.
Now, Trump did win Clayton County — by 23 points. Obama won the county twice (by almost 7 points in 2012 and by 17 points in 2008), and Kerry won it (by a little more than 4.5 points), and Gore won it (by about 2.5 points), and Clinton won it in 1996 (by 16 points) and 1992 (by a little more than 7.5 points), and Dukakis won it by almost 6 points. Mondale lost it by 18.5 points, though. (The last three figures are from here. You’ll have to play with things to get them to show up.)
So Clayton County is one of several counties that Democrats had been winning since Bill Clinton was governor of Arkansas. When everyone but Hillary won a county, you’ve clearly got what was a solidly blue area until Hillary and her historically anti-Trump campaign lost, probably by trying to win in the wrong way: The way to win as a Democrat is to campaign on the economy, not on the other guy being worse. Hillary either didn’t know that — which I doubt — or thought she could just run on manners.
Against this backdrop of Clayton County being consistently Democratic unless you’re Hillary Clinton, we have a rally whose attendance figure is supposed to be a big deal. The only event I find in Elkader in the afternoon on a weekday is here, at the Elkader Opera House, whose capacity is 455. (“An opera house? That is not an entertainment venue I was expecting to see in a town whose population is in the 1,000 range.” You and me both. But there it is.)
This Pete fan site reports, courtesy of Pete’s Iowa organizing director, Kevin Groh, that roughly one-third of the town attended the opera house town hall.
Unrelated: This is 18 kinds of delightful.
In any event, we now have a problem. Putting aside the matter of Elkader County, which again isn’t a thing, we have dueling claims by Pete staffers:
- “town hall that was attended by more people than the county’s total population.”
- “number of people at this Pete Buttigieg town hall is greater than 35% of the population of Elkader.”
Perhaps one person misheard or misread the statistic, changed it in the email and wasn’t challenged on the claim before it went out. But the county’s population is about 18,000, and roughly 400 people attended the town hall, so something here is grossly incorrect.
The rest of the email is standard cheerleading — which, again, by itself is expected. Emails that contain no hope attract few donations. Having said that, I do have two questions:
- “People from all corners of the country — in rural Iowa, in the North Country of New Hampshire, in nearly every state — are coming together to talk about Pete, talk about our values, and talk about this election.”
Where is nobody talking about Pete and/or the election? It’s weird to me for as high-level a campaign operative to imply that there are states in which Pete and the presidential election aren’t getting attention.
- “In all my years working for political campaigns I’ve never seen anything like this.”
This is, first of all, a slightly silly thing to write. This woman has been working on campaigns for about a decade, so “all my years” isn’t necessarily a great library of campaigns to compare to this one. But other reports are yielding similar language, such as:
“For the last few months, Buttigieg has drawn crowds in Iowa that conjure the early energy of the Obama campaign. Last month, after five hundred people showed up to a rally in Fairfield, more than a few told me that, although Obama’s audience in the same town twelve years ago was slightly larger, no other candidate’s numbers have come as close. The campaign has not resisted leaning into these comparisons, in no small part, it seems, because Buttigieg will need to rely on a similar tactic to succeed. In 2008, Obama managed to activate political interest in under-engaged communities in Iowa, where an unprecedented turnout of first-time caucusgoers delivered him a surprising eight-point victory. The precedent for such a strategy might be rarefied, but it exists. The question is whether Buttigieg’s campaign has the power, and the patience, to repeat it.”
“The announcement of @PeteButtigieg was the most inspiring I’ve seen since @BarackObama’s. He’s not the only candidate I like. But he’s the one whose aspirations for the country I love speak most forcefully to me today. His is a campaign not just for an office but for an era.”
So perhaps there is something to Greta Carnes’ comparison. Now all she’s got to do is stop making unforced errors. Remember: Elkader isn’t a county.