CARROLL, Iowa — Pete Buttigieg stunned the Democratic presidential field with a nearly $25 million second-quarter fundraising haul. Now he needs to figure out how to use that money to build a campaign that can go the distance against nearly two dozen rivals — many of them better known — and make sure that enthusiasm from donors is matched by support from voters.
That poses big challenges for the 37-year-old mayor of South Bend, Indiana, who lags several of his top opponents in the number of staff on the ground in early primary states. He also has significant work to do to earn support of African American voters, a crucial constituency in the Democratic presidential primary.
Buttigieg said much of his emphasis will be on retail politics — more days like Thursday, when he blitzed across Iowa for a parade and picnics and one-on-one interactions with voters. The campaign also says it plans in coming months to add 100 people to a staff that started with six employees and now has about 200, as well as enlist a larger number of volunteers.
“The whole point of all that fundraising was to make sure that we have the organization we need to win,” Buttigieg told reporters after a town hall meeting in a sweltering high school gymnasium in Sioux City, Iowa. “Obviously we got great news on that front, now we’ve got to put it to work.”
Buttigieg has been a source of both fascination and skepticism in the opening months of the Democratic primary. He was virtually unknown when he began his campaign but garnered attention with high-profile media appearances and a call for generational change in politics.
His fundraising prowess suggests he will be more than Democrats’ flavor-of-the-month candidate — he topped former Vice President Joe Biden’s haul and more than doubled the money raised in the second quarter by U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, whose home state of California is the center of the Democratic fundraising universe. He has attracted high-dollar donors, including “West Wing” actor Bradley Whitford and “Glee” producer Ryan Murphy, and his grassroots events, with tickets as low as $25, have drawn as many as 1,500 people.
Yet Buttigieg still faces questions about his experience and whether his appeal extends beyond wealthier donors and white voters.
“Ultimately you can raise all the money in the world but you need to figure out your pathway to win that nomination,” said Doug Thornell, a Democratic strategist.
Buttigieg’s biggest investment has so far been in Iowa, the overwhelmingly white state that kicks off the Democratic primary with a caucus on Feb. 3.