NPR Analysis Of Debate & Pete Buttigieg's Performance

Oct 15, 2019

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., left, and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg participate in a Democratic presidential primary debate hosted by CNN and The New York Times at Otterbein University, Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019, in Westerville, Ohio.
Credit John Minchillo/AP Photo

South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg went after Elizabeth Warren’s plan by leaning into his own Midwestern credentials.

“This is why people here in the Midwest are so frustrated with Washington in general and Capitol Hill in particular,” Buttigieg said, reminding voters of his profile as a mayor from a red state.

Buttigieg has tried to carve out a lane for himself as a moderate bridge-builder and a fresh-faced alternative to the space occupied by former Vice President Joe Biden, who has been popular with white working-class voters.

Buttigieg accused Warren of being “evasive” about how she would pay for the plan and of having “a plan for everything except this” — a knock at one of Warren’s most popular talking points.


In an exchange on gun violence, former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg and others clashed over how hard to push on gun control.

O’Rourke has drawn the ire of gun rights supporters by calling for a mandatory buyback program for assault-style weapons, or what he describes as “weapons of war.”

Buttigieg argued for a more incremental, pragmatic approach: “We can’t wait for purity tests; we have to get something done.”

O’Rourke said that while he supports policies with widespread appeal, like universal background checks, he also wants to push for more aggressive policies like banning assault-style weapons, prompting Buttigieg to hit back.

“I don’t need lessons from you on courage,” Buttigieg responded, alluding to his military service.

Like Buttigieg, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar also argued for focusing on policies with broad public support, such as banning sales of guns to domestic abusers: “I just don’t want to screw this up,” she said.

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren also argued for incremental steps: “I want to get what works done,” she said, arguing for voluntary gun buybacks. “This is not going to be a one and done.”


Two military veterans are onstage tonight, but each took a very different tack when it came to the latest foreign policy crisis over Turkey and Syria.

While Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard decried endless “regime change wars” (and has been criticized for being too sympathetic toward Syrian dictator Bashar Assad), South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg emphasized why America can’t abandon its allies.

"I think that is dead wrong,” he told Gabbard. “The slaughter going on in Syria is not a consequence of American presence. It’s a consequence of a withdrawal and a betrayal by this president of American allies and American values."

Pushed again by Gabbard, he said he didn’t support keeping soldiers in Syria indefinitely but that “we need to back people up and not abandon allies like the Kurds.”

He also had tough words for Trump — who has never served in uniform.

“This president has betrayed American values. Our credibility has been tattered,” Buttigieg said.

“I will restore U.S. credibility before it is finally too late.”

Buttigieg said his experience in the military built connections with people from a variety of backgrounds. “They didn’t care if I was going home to a boyfriend or a girlfriend; they didn’t care what country my dad emigrated from and whether he was documented or not,” he said. “We just learned to trust each other.”


At the one hour mark Buttigieg had the 6th most time talking with 4 min. 22 sec. 

At the two hour mark, Buttigieg had talked 8 min. and 47 sec. That was the fifth most of any candidate at that point in the debate. 

By 10:40pm Buttigieg had the third most talking time with 11 min. and 31 sec. 

By the end, Buttigieg had the 6th most time to speak with a total of 12 min. and 50 sec.

Warren had the most with 22 min. and 52 sec.

She was followed by Joe Biden, Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders, Beto O'Rourke and then Buttigieg.