By BRIAN A. HOWEY

INDIANAPOLIS — At 8 tonight at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s primetime moment arrives. It is a dynamic his upstart campaign has been seeking since its national breakthrough moment last spring: A less crowded debate stage where the 37-year-old mayor can match his policy chops with the septuagenarian frontrunners Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders.

Missing will be Rep. Eric Swalwell, Beto O’Rourke, Sen. Kamala Harris and that other Rhodes Scholar mayor, Sen. Cory Booker. Tonight could also open up a new era in this Democratic presidential race where the so-called frontrunners affix a bullseye to Mayor Pete’s back.

Buttigieg joined this race’s upper eschelon with his startling $24 million second quarter FEC report. He then had to endure five debates on a stage crowded with 10 participants, the first divided into two nights. There were glares with Rep. Swalwell and showdown with O’Rourke over gun reforms. Tonight promises the most vivid contrast exposure between the young mayor and the old farts, with a Democratic presidential nomination on the line.

According to Vox Media, mid-December national polls from NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist, Quinnipiac University, and USA Today/Suffolk University show that most Democratic voters have a candidate they are considering, but have yet to actually make up their minds. That suggests the ranking of the candidates – which has remained fairly consistent in recent weeks – could be shaken up in the new year. Former Vice President Joe Biden topped all three polls, with 23% in the Suffolk survey, 24% in Marist’s, and 30% in Quinnipiac’s. Sen. Bernie Sanders was second in all three, with support ranging from 14% (Suffolk) to 22% (Marist). Sen. Elizabeth Warren was third, with support ranging from 13% (Suffolk) to 17% (Quinnipiac and Marist); Mayor Pete Buttigieg was fourth, his support running from 8% (Suffolk) to 13% (Marist).

Vox continued: “These national numbers underscore a reality that has existed for the duration of the race. While the field has seen individual candidates’ polling spike and decline, Biden and Sanders, the two men who entered the race with the highest name recognition and the most distinct bases of support, have maintained their spots atop the field in a remarkable fashion. That could all change, beginning tonight.”

Buttigieg has been mixing it up with the septuagenarians. Biden accused him of “stealing” his “Medicare for All Who Want It” plan.

Sanders took aim, saying Buttigieg is attempting to preserve an unfair health system. “If you maintain a system where millions of people co tinue to get their private insurance from their employers, the average worker in America making about $60,000 a year is paying $12,000 for their health care,” Sanders told a crowd in Burlington, Iowa. “That’s 20% of somebody’s income. If Buttigieg or anyone else wants to maintain that system, I think that is really unfair to the working families of this country.”

As for Warren, Buttigieg may have set off his most conspicuous trap when he called her Medicare for All plan’s funding “evasive” in September. That may have helped launch Warren’s spiral down in recent polls after she announced a fantastic, gargantuan $20 trillion plan. “His plan is not offering full health care coverage to anyone,” she told reporters in Iowa on Monday. “His plan is still about high deductibles, about fees, about co-pays and about uncovered expenses. What I’m offering is full health care coverage.”

Into the Warren polling vacuum, Buttigieg’s numbers have gone up in Iowa and New Hampshire; Warren has gone down.

Warren has been taking aim at the mayor’s fundraising and bundlers, as well as his McKinsey portfolio. Buttigieg released both, but according to Politico, his campaign omitted more than 20 high-level fundraisers from a list of top “bundlers” it disclosed to the public last week. Expect Warren to take aim at that tonight.

"His pressures on Warren and some of the farther left policies is expanding the Democratic base, allowing some more moderate people to feel like they have a voice in this race,’ Bryce Smith, the Democratic Party chairman in Dallas County, Iowa, told the New York Times.

That same day, Buttigieg added two more Iowa legislators to his endorsement column, both of them from Des Moines’ South Side, according to Iowa Starting Line. State Sen. Tony Bisignano and State Rep. Brian Meyer announced their support for Buttieig, adding two well-known legislators to his endorsement list that includes many local elected officials. State Sen. Bill Dotzler of Waterloo endorsed Buttigieg earlier this month. “People are underestimating his traction,” Bisignano told Starting Line.