Liberal Veterans’ Group Endorses Pete Buttigieg in 2020 Race

 ·  Reid J. Epstein, New York Times   ·   Link to Article

VoteVets is the first major organization to endorse the mayor of South Bend, Ind., who served in Afghanistan with the Navy.

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — VoteVets, the political action committee that backs liberal veterans running for office, has endorsed Pete Buttigieg for president, the first major organization to support him.

The endorsement brings Mr. Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Ind., and a former Navy officer who served in Afghanistan, new defenders in a 2020 Democratic presidential contest that has seen better known candidates drop out as polling shows early-state voters coalescing around the four leading candidates.

Jon Soltz, the co-founder and chairman of VoteVets, said that other campaigns weren’t taking on Mr. Buttigieg directly but that they were using opposition research to try and “hold back his momentum.”

He added: “They haven’t really been able to do it and now it’s a question of what is Pete’s coalition? We feel it’s important to jump into the breach and let people know that VoteVets is the start of that coalition.”

VoteVets will make a maximum contribution to the Buttigieg campaign, Mr. Soltz said, but its most significant support may come from the organization’s super PAC and its 501(c)(4) arm, which can engage in issue advocacy and is not required to disclose its donors.

The VoteVets endorsement for Mr. Buttigieg means that of the four leading candidates, Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts is the only one without an outside organization poised to purchase TV ads on her behalf. Unite the Country plans to soon start running ads for former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont has the National Nurses United’s super PAC, which spent $5 million backing him in 2016 and has yet to buy TV time this cycle.

A super PAC backing Senator Kamala Harris of California was set to begin advertisements in Iowa before she dropped out of the race on Tuesday, and United We Win, a super PAC supporting Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, launched in November with the goal of helping Mr. Booker qualify for the December debate. The group has spent $1 million and is funding a TV ad in Iowa that attacks Mr. Buttigieg.

Mr. Buttigieg said Tuesday that he is “thrilled” to have the endorsement of VoteVets, which has spent more than $100 million to back Democratic candidates since 2006, when Mr. Soltz, a two-tour Iraq War veteran, helped found the organization.

“VoteVets has been a voice for some time and become a very important voice for veterans,” Mr. Buttigieg said during an interview in Okatie, S.C., on Tuesday. “For a lot of folks in my generation, the post-9/11 veterans, it’s a huge honor to have their support.”

The endorsement of Mr. Buttigieg is a snub to Representative Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, an Iraq War veteran whom VoteVets supported in her 2012 House primary race and in her re-election bids since. Mr. Soltz said he has “always expected great things from Tulsi Gabbard and that sentiment does not change because of this decision.”

Though all of the leading Democratic presidential candidates have at one point said they did not want super PACs to influence the party’s primary, none have explicitly condemned the super PACs that have spent on their behalf.

At the first stop of her campaign in January, Ms. Warren called for all candidates in the race to “to link arms and say we’re going to do this with grass roots funding.”

Mr. Buttigieg did not disavow potential VoteVets super PAC spending on his behalf.

“A candidate’s got no involvement in that sort of thing,” he said.

Asked if he would request the VoteVets super PAC not to spend funds on his behalf, Mr. Buttigieg replied: “I’m not going to get involved in that.”

This week, VoteVets Action Fund, the group’s 501(c)(4) arm, spent $1.5 million on TV ads in Michigan to support Senator Gary Peters, a Democrat facing re-election in 2020.

The group has been active mostly in House races and has never before spent significant sums on a presidential primary.

“We feel that he has the most credibility and the most experience to lead our federal government,” Mr. Soltz said of Mr. Buttigieg. “There’s nobody better to end the Afghanistan war than a person who fought in it.”

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