- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Joseph R. Biden’s tangle with allegations of nepotism and possible corruption in Ukraine has Pete Buttigieg eyeing an opening in the moderate lane of the 2020 Democratic presidential race.

The South Bend, Indiana, mayor’s hefty war chest and solid positioning at the front of the pack of second-tier candidates have made him the sleeping giant of the more moderate Democratic hopefuls, and the voters are giving Mr. Buttigieg a second look.

Laura Hubka, chairwoman of the Democratic Party in Howard County, Iowa, said the party’s voters aren’t necessarily sold on the story that Mr. Biden, a former vice president, is linked to the business dealings of his son Hunter. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t hurting the Biden campaign and helping Mr. Buttigieg.

“I don’t think that anyone really believes that Biden’s son did anything that Biden would have been involved with. But it may have made them think about the reality of Biden having a long record that can be brought up over and over again on the national stage,” she said. “Pete is an option in many people’s minds.”

It’s a worry that cuts to the heart of Mr. Biden’s argument that he has the best shot at beating President Trump.

The corruption allegation involves Hunter Biden’s high-paying job on the board of a Ukraine natural gas company while his father was vice president. Mr. Trump’s request of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate the Bidens spurred a whistleblower complaint that led to the House Democrats’ new impeachment inquiry.

Hunter Biden also made lucrative deals in China while his father was in the White House.

The elder Mr. Biden has insisted that he is not privy to his son’s business deals and that they have done nothing wrong.

Mr. Biden has dominated the moderate lane of the Democratic race. He remains a front-runner, though he is jockeying with far-left Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts for the lead position in early voting Iowa and New Hampshire.

The other top contender is Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont, who, like Ms. Warren, is offering a socialist-style agenda that appeals to the party’s left wing.

Several more moderate candidates are angling for Mr. Biden’s spot. Mr. Buttigieg, who is openly gay, so far has the most traction.

He consistently places fourth in most national, Iowa and New Hampshire polls.

Chris Meagher, national press secretary for the Buttigieg campaign, said they were “focused on our own campaign” and not trying to profit from Mr. Biden’s misfortunes.

But he was upbeat about Mr. Buttigieg’s position in the race.

“We are in a good position right now and we feel we have a lot of momentum heading into the debate,” he said.

Mr. Buttigieg is already in the top three in the money race. He amassed $19.1 million in the third quarter, behind Mr. Sanders’ $25.3 million and Ms. Warren’s $24.6 million.

Mr. Biden raised $15.2 million, a sharp decline from his $21.5 million haul in the second quarter.

Mr. Buttigieg will join 11 other candidates who qualified for the debate Tuesday in Westerville, Ohio.

Democratic strategist Brad Bannon noted that Mr. Biden’s downward trajectory began before the Ukraine story broke.

“He has sagged and that has created an opening for Buttigieg if he can fill it. But the Biden decline is a function of flubs on the campaign trail and poor debate performances,” he said. “Trump’s attacks on Biden have actually elevated him above the other Democrats and stabilized the former vice president’s position in the nomination battle.

“There’s nothing better for any Democrat than being attacked by the president,” he said.

Others in the moderate lane include Sen. Kamala D. Harris of California, Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado and Montana Gov. Steve Bullock.

Mr. Bennet and Mr. Bullock barely register in the polls and did not qualify for the Ohio debate.

Ms. Klobuchar polls in the low single digits. She will be on the debate stage next week.

Ms. Harris also earned a spot in the debate. She currently polls at 4.4%, just behind Mr. Buttigieg at 5.6% in the Real Clear Politics average of recent national polls. However, her run has been fading in recent weeks.

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