By BRIAN A. HOWEY

INDIANAPOLIS  – Now the truly hard part for Pete Buttigieg begins. After historically narrow first- and second-place finishes in mostly white Iowa and New Hampshire, the former South Bend mayor is faced with forming his own “movement” to counter U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders and the bottomless wallet of billionaire Michael Bloomberg.

Buttigieg’s nascent campaign is one of epic overachievement. Or as he told supporters in Nashua and a nationwide TV audience just before 11 Tuesday night, “Here in a state that goes by the motto ‘Live free or die,’ you made up your own minds. You asserted that famous independent streak and thanks to you, a campaign that some said shouldn’t be here at all has shown that we are here to stay.”

The former South Bend mayor now heads into a browner America, with the Nevada caucuses and South Carolina primary coming in the next 18 days, followed by Super Tuesday on March 3 in diverse states like Texas and California. He does so as the first openly gay candidate just two presidential cycles into an era when that isn’t seen as a disqualifying electoral liability, and as a mayor of a medium-sized Indiana city, for an office that has never had such an official attempt such a career leap.

On Wednesday morning, Buttigieg began his move toward gaining African-American support seen as vital to what could be a generational movement. He announced the endorsement of South Carolina State Rep. J.A. Moore, an African-American businessman and chef. “Electability is top of mind for every South Carolina voter. If anyone had doubts, Pete Buttigieg has proven he’s the only viable candidate to build a cross-racial, rural, urban and suburban coalition to win in November.” said Moore.

That endorsement came as Pete for America in South Carolina expanded to 55 staff members across six field offices, as well as 100 in Nevada. The campaign has also been investing in paid media across the state, running digital, television and radio ads, including one featuring Walter Clyburn Reed and Abe Jenkins reflecting on the legacies of their respective grandfathers. Clyburn Reed is the grandson of Rep. James E. Clyburn, and Jenkins is the grandson of civil rights leader Esau Jenkins.

It’s an attempt to fix the glaring hole in his resume, the lack of African-American support, which was just 4% in the most recent Charleston Post & Courier poll. Buttigieg is polling in the single digits in the Real Clear Politics polling composites in Nevada (7%), South Carolina (5.5%), California (7.3%), and Texas (5%). But that’s been familiar territory for the mayor.

“We have to engage voters in very racially diverse states,” Buttigieg said early Wednesday morning on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “We have to share this message that we have to come together and confront Donald Trump and unify the Democratic Party over values we share. There’s going to be a very clear choice here. Sen. Sanders, who I greatly respect, has got an approach that you’ve either got to be for his revolution or the status quo. Most people don’t see where they fit in that message. Our message is real, meaningful, bold, progressive reform in a way that can actually bring Americans together and not polarize us.”

Asked about the coming pitch to Palmetto State blacks, Buttigieg explained, “The key is that I’m sharing South Bend’s story but also other black and Latino voices from our community are also sharing their experience of South Bend’s story. The Douglass Plan isn’t something that just came out of the blue. It connects to things we’ve learned, sometimes the hard way, at home. Just like America’s story, our city’s story is complex and challenging, but it is a story of working side by side to deliver for black residents. I’ll be telling that story so ideas of the Douglass Plan connect to the world that I’ve done.

“A lot of the folks I’ve talked to over the last year say, ‘The plan seems great ... but, c’mon, are you really going to be a competitive campaign?’ Now that we’ve put that question to rest, I think we’re getting a whole new look from black and Latino voters who have so much riding on whether we defeat Donald Trump.”

With the apparent implosion of former vice president Joe Biden, the key question is where does his support go?  Veteran analyst Josh Kraushaar of the National Journal observed, “Who wins the African-American vote going forward? No one, other than Biden, has a claim to their support. Bernie has a faction of the activist base, but deeply skeptical he can broaden support.”
 
U.S. Rep. James Clyburn said Wednesday morning Biden “is still the leading candidate in South Carolina. I think Nevada will have an impact” but said that Biden lacked a forward leaning perspective. New York Post columnist Ben Domenech wrote Wednesday of Biden, “He is low on money, and the crush of ad spending by Michael Bloomberg and Tom Steyer in critical states means that he can barely afford to compete in key markets. His events seem exhausted and strained, his voice quavering between a harsh staccato and a whisper.”

As for his pitch to Nevada this next week, Buttigieg noted that a wide swath of labor isn’t interested in Sanders’ Medicare for All plan. “Nevada is a great place where union workers gave concessions on wages to get excellent plans,” Buttigieg explained yesterday on ‘Morning Joe’. “I’m talking about culinary workers ... who are prioritizing health care and they are not interested in Sen. Sanders’ plan of eliminating all private plans. They actually got and fought for the good coverage they have now. If the choice is between Sen. Sanders telling them they’re going to have to give that up and me saying we can increase enhanced choice ... I think that is a very good debate for us to have.”

Starting Monday, the Buttigieg campaign will have boots on the ground in every Super Tuesday state that will help further resource and train thousands of grassroots volunteer networks in all 165 congressional districts, the campaign said. Additionally, Pete for America announced four upcoming trips in the next two weeks that will take Buttigieg to Super Tuesday states including California, North Carolina, Utah, and Virginia. This also comes on the heels of a six-figure digital buy in several Super Tuesday states. He has fundraisers set later this week in Indianapolis and California.

“We are building the campaign that will not only win this nomination but will defeat Donald Trump in November,” said Samantha Steelman, organizing director for Super Tuesday States. “To compete in all the states on Super Tuesday, you need a massive network of grassroots volunteers. For months, we have had a team building that organization by harnessing the energy and grassroots momentum behind Pete and turning it into real organizing work. This ramp up will provide more staff and resources to train, resource, and guide our 25,000 volunteers in Super Tuesday states that will push our campaign across the finish line on March 3rd.”

Buttigieg burnished his campaign cred this past week in a state that Sanders won in a landslide four years ago. In addition to Sanders’ movement and Bloomberg’s profound wealth, Buttigieg will have to fend off the late surge of Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who prevented the outright Buttigieg Granite State upset. With Biden imploding, Buttigieg will attempt to consolidate the “moderate” middle lane, which carried more than 55% of the New Hampshire vote. Veteran operative David Axelrod said, “What is striking ... and we saw last week in Iowa as well, Pete Buttigieg runs relatively well across all categories. He does well in different kinds of communities. And he has done a good job of casting a broad message that is hitting a large target.”

Two weeks ago, Real Clear Politics polling composite in New Hampshire had Sanders leading at 25%, Joe Biden at 17%, Elizabeth Warren and Buttigieg tied at 14%, with Klobuchar at 6%. ABC News exit polling revealed Buttigieg won those who made their choice in the campaign’s closing days. .

The other key challenge for Buttigieg is money. Not only is he coming up against Bloomberg’s deep pockets, but Sanders announced he raised an astounding $25 million in January. CNBC reported that one new Buttigieg supporter is former Goldman Sachs partner David Heller. Another is National Association of Manufacturers president and CEO Jerry Jasinowski. His campaign has spent more in South Carolina than in Nevada so far, but that may be changing. Mr. Buttigieg has $388,000 in ads placed for this week in Nevada and $75,000 in South Carolina.