Mayor Pete Is Going to War with Sanders and Warren Over Medicare for All

A new ad buy targets his two progressive rivals and touts his more flexible healthcare plan.

Hours before tonight's Democratic debate in Ohio, Pete Buttigieg is swiping at the Achilles heels of two of the highest-polling candidates in the race.

The campaign of the South Bend, Indiana mayor just launched a new ad buy in Iowa, hitting Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) over their support of Medicare for All, the single-payer insurance plan that would nationalize healthcare in the U.S.


Buttigieg's position is a lot like former Vice President Joe Biden's—and his strategy appears to be to aggressively court the middle on healthcare and other issues that made Biden the early front-runner. Buttigieg decries Medicare for All as “questionable on [its] merits,” and the ad emphasizes that. The minute-long spot features a supercut of broadcast journalists discussing what Buttigieg has called the flexibility of his proposal.

“Even if you currently get your insurance through your employer at work, you’d still be able to buy into this public option if you want it,” one commentator says in Buttigieg’s ad. That argument reflects what the vast majority of candidates running for president have claimed on the trail: that voters who like their existing healthcare should have the option to keep it, instead of being forced to enroll in a one-size-fits-all plan.

Another clip in the ad notes that 160 million people get health insurance through their employers. But Sanders, who supports eliminating private insurers entirely, has argued that people shouldn’t have to rely on their employers for basic needs like healthcare.

“This is how public alternatives work,” Buttigieg said of his proposal, called “Medicare for All Who Want It,” during an interview over the weekend. “They create a public alternative that the private sector is then forced to compete with.”

The ad comes as Warren faces questions about her commitment to Medicare for All. Her campaign mantra is “I’ve got a plan for that,” but she hasn't yet rolled out her own detailed healthcare plan. And she has routinely declined to directly answer whether she would pay for the plan by raising taxes on middle-class families, insisting instead that people's overall costs will go down.


Healthcare consistently polls as the issue Democratic voters care the most about, but their enthusiasm about Medicare for All is less clear: While slightly more than half of the population says they support a national health system, some polls indicate they don’t totally know what Medicare for All really means.

Other candidates running to the right of Warren and Sanders on the issue have tried to make the same argument.

At a forum last weekend hosted by the United Food and Commercial Workers labor union, former Vice President Joe Biden emphasized that union members could keep their existing insurance under his healthcare plan, which would create a public option but keep private plans in place. The crowd didn’t make a peep. (That may be because 20 of the country’s largest unions, representing 9 million workers, support single-payer, including the Medicare for All model Sanders proposes in his own bill.)

Buttigieg has consistently polled behind Warren and Sanders throughout the race, with a Quinnipiac poll released Monday showing him at 8 percent support nationally. Warren leads the field in the race, edging out Biden at 30 percent, while Sanders came in third at 11 percent.

A Medicare for All bill in the Democrat-led House has seen high support this year, with a majority of Democrats signing onto the proposal.

Cover: South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., participate in the first of two Democratic presidential primary debates hosted by CNN Tuesday, July 30, 2019, in the Fox Theatre in Detroit. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)