MANCHESTER, N.H. — Pete Buttigieg returned to New Hampshire this week riding a wave of momentum generated by his surprisingly strong Iowa finish. But he was greeted by pushback from some of the most powerful women in the state, who saw a double standard in his declaration of victory in Iowa late Monday.
In their view, the 38-year-old mayor’s unexpected assertion — a calculated political statement delivered without any accompanying evidence at the time — smacked of “white male privilege,” “hubris” and a lack of equanimity that a female candidate would be criticized for.
“In a moment where he should show composure and measure, he’s not doing that,” said Jenn Alford-Teaster, a Sen. Elizabeth Warren supporter and Democratic activist running for state Senate. ”But he’s going to get away with it because that’s what happens when you’re a man. You can do whatever you want. For women, we’re held to a different standard and it’s demoralizing as a candidate and it’s demoralizing as a voter.”
In his speech to supporters in Des Moines on Monday night, Buttigieg went beyond where any of his rivals were willing to go in the wake of the vote-counting debacle, essentially claiming first place based on what his campaign said were internal numbers showing him edging out Sen. Bernie Sanders. He might be right — the Iowa Democratic Party is still trying to figure out the official winner. But even without those results, his performance exceeded expectations.
“We don’t know all the results,” is how he started his speech, looking downwards with a slight grin. “But we know by the time it’s all said and done, Iowa, you have shocked the nation, because by all indications, we are going on to New Hampshire victorious.”
To his critics — nearly all of whom were prominent supporters of Warren and Sen. Amy Klobuchar — the presumption that he had won in the absence of any official data left a bad impression.
That could be an issue in a state where women cast 55 percent of the Democratic primary vote in 2016, according to exit polls.
Former House Speaker Terie Norelli, a major Warren supporter and surrogate, said that because Buttigieg is a white male, it gives him the ability to get away with declaring victory without any official results in, something a woman would be criticized for.
“I don’t necessarily think it was intentional on his part. I think that’s just a symptom of white male privilege, right? You guys don’t even realize what’s happening, because you are privileged to be able to walk through this world in the way that you do,” Norelli said. “And so whether it’s gender privilege, or skin color privilege, or wealth privilege, and I think people who have privilege generally, are often not even aware of it and certainly are generally not willing to give it up.”
The sentiment was backed up by Monica Ciolfi, a respected Concord attorney and abortion rights activist who also served as senior adviser to Rep. Ann McLane Kuster during her first term. She said a female candidate would have faced condemnation for being as “assertive and aggressive” as Buttigieg during his speech.
“Had a woman made the same type of statement, it would have been viewed much more harshly,” said Ciolfi, a supporter of Sen. Amy Klobuchar. “There would have been different adjectives attached to that kind of announcement like arrogant or unfounded or preposterous.”
Kathy Sullivan, a former state party chair and current DNC committeewoman, said New Hampshire voters are generally supportive of female candidates. She pointed to 2016, when New Hampshire became the first state in history to have an all-female delegation along with a female governor and state Supreme Court chief justice.
“He was out over his skis a little bit when he did that,” said Sullivan, a Warren supporter. “Sometimes when you get too far over your skis, sometimes it works out, sometimes you crash. It was just a little bit of hubris there. Sometimes you need to be a little more cautious, a little more careful. There’s nothing wrong with being confident. Nothing. I mean, that's a good thing.”
Buttigieg has wide support from women in the state, including Kuster, the most senior elected official to make an endorsement in the primary, who is spending significant time campaigning for him.
Some of his top female supporters pushed back on the complaints, including Jennifer Frizzell, director of policy for the New Hampshire Women’s Foundation, who introduced him ahead of his town hall in the state’s capital on Tuesday night.
“Pete’s campaign had much to celebrate on Monday night after months of organizing and coalition-building in every corner of Iowa,” she said in a statement. “His victory speech was an important opportunity to acknowledge the many activists and volunteers and to recognize the historic nature of that evening’s success while capturing the momentum of a strong finish.”
The Buttigieg campaign declined to comment.
Few think the frustration with Buttigieg’s victory lap will prove costly in the long run — if he’s the nominee, his critics said, they plan to wholeheartedly support him.
But the fact that some of Warren’s top surrogates publicly criticized another candidate is nevertheless a surprising development. Locally, her campaign has gone to great lengths to play nice with everyone else in the field.
Buttigieg is polling in third place in New Hampshire, slightly ahead of Warren and about double Klobuchar, according to an average compiled by Real Clear Politics.
“The people of Iowa have spoken and the results speak for themselves,” said Maura Sullivan, the Buttigieg campaign’s New Hampshire co-chair. “And no one can deny this was a historic and momentous night for our country — one which brought hope to millions of our fellow citizens about what is possible in America."