Facing stagnant poll numbers but flush with campaign cash, Buttigieg vows to build winning team

Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg says he’s “very pleased” with his standing in the polls.

The one-time longest of long-shots for the nomination, the South Bend, Indiana mayor surged this spring to top-tier status. But while his fundraising has soared – he’s far outpaced his top rivals for the nomination by hauling in $24.8 million during the April-June fundraising period — his poll numbers have stagnated.

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Still, campaigning Friday in the first-in-the-nation presidential primary state of New Hampshire, Buttigieg told Fox News his campaign has come a long way from where it started.

“To have started this race with a staff of four in January and to have been probably the most obscure candidate and to now be running ahead of approximately 20 other Democrats, many of whom are nationally famous people who have been working on this for years, demonstrates that there’s something in our message and something about the messenger that this campaign represents something that is compelling,” he said.

He touted his campaign cash figures, saying “the fact that we did the best of any Democrat running for president in fundraising last quarter means that we will now be able to put those resources on the ground.”

“Right here in New Hampshire, we’ve got two dozen staffers and growing fast,” he said.

Buttigieg vowed that “we’re building up the team that is going to be required in order to win.”

The 37-year-old Afghanistan War veteran — who would become the nation’s first gay president if elected — argued in an interview that “part of why we’ve been able to cut through the noise and make it into the top tier of candidates is that we’re simply not like the others.”

But his poll numbers have lagged in part because of low support from black voters, who will have a significant say in who wins the Democratic nomination. That’s especially the case in South Carolina, which holds the first southern primary in the nomination race. Buttigieg is at just four percent in a new Fox News poll in the Palmetto State.

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Buttigieg, who’s dealing with a controversial fatal shooting of a black man by a white cop back home in South Bend, on Thursday formally unveiled a wide-ranging plan to establish a $10 billion fund for black entrepreneurs over five years, invest $25 billion in historically black colleges, increase contracts to minority own businesses, legalize marijuana, expunge past drug convictions, reduce the prison population by half and pass a new Voting Rights Act to further empower the federal government to ensure voting access.

“I’m convinced that in our time, if we do not tackle systemic racism and racial inequality, it will unravel the entire American project,” Buttigieg told the jam-packed crowd at his first event of the day, a house party in a barn in the coastal town of Rye.

Asked by Fox News if he was able to increase contracts to minority businesses and reduce the incarceration rate during his tenure as mayor, he admitted he had not.

“We have to accept responsibility for building up more of these businesses to work with in the first place. And I don’t think that will happen without federal action,” he said.

During his speech at the event in Rye, Buttigieg appeared to take a jab at former Vice President Joe Biden, the front-runner right now in the race for the Democratic nomination.

Biden has repeatedly spotlighted his tenure as President Barack Obama’s vice president for eight years.

But Buttigieg emphasized that in order to defeat Republican President Donald Trump next year, “we cannot look like we are promising a return to normal, because normal didn’t work. We’ve got to do better than normal. We’ve got to a lot better than the old normal.”

Buttitiged also declined to weigh in on the ongoing war of words between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, an outspoken favorite of the party’s left-wing.

Taking questions from reporters following a town hall-style event in Dover that attracted nearly 900 people, Buttigieg said “I’m not going to pick sides in a House caucus tussle. What I will say is the diversity of opinions in the party right now is pretty healthy.”

But he did weigh in on Friday’s resignation by embattled Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta following renewed scrutiny of his handling of a 2008 secret plea deal with wealthy financier Jeffrey Epstein, who’s accused of sexually abusing dozens of underage girls.

“Of course he had to go,” he said.

Taking aim at the Trump administration, Buttigieg added that “it’s part of a bigger pattern where this kind of horror show, reality show, whatever you want to call it in the White House, makes it almost impossible, even if they had good intentions, let alone the cynical intentions they have, makes it impossible for them to get anything done for the American people.”

Fox News’ Peter Doocy contributed to this report.