Though Mr. Buttigieg began his TV ad campaign in Iowa first, there are fewer ads on the air for him in the final week before the caucuses than there are for his competitors. Mr. Buttigieg is being outspent by Mr. Sanders, Ms. Warren and the super PAC backing Mr. Biden — though with the local airwaves saturated by political ads there can be just as much value in making news by going on the attack on the stump as there is in buying more TV time.
Pressed by reporters earlier this week, Mr. Buttigieg had resisted calling Mr. Sanders a risk himself and would not say if he believed Mr. Sanders could beat Mr. Trump. On Thursday, he cast his new remarks as airing an “honest and respectful” difference between the visions of the three men. He also acknowledged that he needs a “strong finish” in the Iowa race.
“This is certainly the moment when folks are choosing, and I want to make sure everyone understands the choice between us,” he told reporters. “We’re competing, it’s a respectful but important competition about what the best approach is going to be.”
Yet in a moment when many Democrats want party unity around the goal of defeating Mr. Trump, there’s a chance that Mr. Buttigieg’s harsher hits could backfire. The primary race has been notable for its lack of particularly tough attacks, with the candidates often circling one another warily even in the final days before caucusing begins.
Aides to other candidates say Iowa Democrats aren’t eager for a contentious race. “I don’t think there’s an appetite for the negativity among Iowa caucusgoers,” said Norm Sterzenbach, who advises Senator Amy Klobuchar’s caucus strategy. “I think historically when there have been aggressive negative campaigns, it has not necessarily worked out the way the candidates had wanted it to.”
Now that Mr. Sanders and Mr. Biden are ahead of him, Mr. Buttigieg has shifted from an argument against a progressive revolution toward one focused around his rivals’ age, albeit without explicitly calling Mr. Sanders, 78, and Mr. Biden, 77, old.
Many of Mr. Buttigieg’s campaign stops have the words “TURN THE PAGE” spelled out in large blue letters behind the stage, a reminder of both his own far younger age, 38, and the idea that he would be free of the political entanglements and baggage that he ascribes to Mr. Biden and Mr. Sanders.