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Pete Buttigieg campaigns at USC, warning against nominating Bloomberg or Sanders

Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg at a town hall at USC
Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg speaks at a town hall at USC on Thursday.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Pete Buttigieg warned Democrats against nominating Michael R. Bloomberg or Bernie Sanders, saying Thursday that either would be a “very, very tough sell” to voters in November.

“If that’s the only two options we have heading into this contest against Donald Trump, we’re in trouble,” Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., said during a town hall at USC hosted by Fox 11 News.

Buttigieg said voters would struggle to see a place for themselves in the Democratic Party if its nominee was the democratic socialist Sanders or the billionaire Bloomberg, who is spending part of his vast fortune on his candidacy. “Most Americans don’t identify with the idea of burning the party down and are also not happy with the idea of trying to buy the party out,” he said.

His remarks followed a heated Democratic debate in which candidates went after Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York and a newcomer to the debate stage, and, to a lesser extent, Vermont Sen. Sanders.

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Buttigieg’s campaign put out a memo Thursday arguing that Bloomberg’s debate performance showed he isn’t capable of taking on Sanders and wouldn’t be able to defeat President Trump.

“If Bloomberg remains in the race despite showing he can not offer a viable alternative to Bernie Sanders, he will propel Sanders to a seemingly insurmountable delegate lead,” the memo reads.

The Vermont senator leads in polls and is expected to lead the delegate count soon.

Buttigieg wasn’t the only one encouraging rivals to leave the race so the moderate vote can coalesce around one candidate. A Bloomberg campaign memo, using remarkably similar language, said that if Buttigieg, former Vice President Joe Biden and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar “remain in the race despite having no path” to gaining delegates on Super Tuesday, “they will propel Sanders to a seemingly insurmountable delegate lead.”

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Buttigieg said Thursday that Bloomberg’s debate performance reflected his decision to skip campaigning in the early states. Instead of competing in the first four states, Bloomberg has focused his time and vast fortune on the 16 contests — including California’s primary — held March 3, also known as Super Tuesday.

“What I think Mike Bloomberg missed out on was a year of going into environments where voters are kicking the tires on your ideas,” he said at the town hall. “If you haven’t had that, it shows.”

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