AUSTIN, Texas - At a rollicking rally on a sweltering Saturday evening at Buford's Backyard Beer Garden, South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg was asked by a young girl what makes him stand out from the rest of the field of candidates seeking the Democratic presidential nomination.
"I think my greatest strength is that I'm just not like the others." Buttigieg said. "We have the most diverse field of presidential candidates ever and I'm proud to be part of that. And I think broadly, we have similar values. But I think we have a different style, and I represent a different kind of messaging."
"And I think what people want more than anything, let's be honest, we just want to beat this person," he said, of President Donald Trump. "This is why it's important to do something different. See Democrats, God bless us, sometimes we overthink things. Right. And there's a risk that we will try to play it safe, because we think that's how we're going to win. Sometimes we don't inspire people in a lot of cases. So I believe in order to win, you can't look like we're just kind of recycling."
Instead, he said, voters need to see, "we're going to do something completely different."
Buttigieg is that.
At 37, he is less than half the age of either former Vice President Joe Biden or Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. He would be the youngest Democratic nominee since William Jennings Bryan in the first of this three runs as the Democratic nominee just before and after the turn of the 20th century. But Buttigieg said that was a long time ago, and Bryan didn't win.
A great president "can be of any age," he said. "I think it really matters what your vision is, and it helps if you have a personal stake in the world."
In other words, the younger you are, the longer you will be around to live with the consequences of your leadership.
The 2020 election is "going to decide not just what the next few years of the presidency are going to look like," Buttigieg said.
"We're lucky and unlucky enough to be living in one of those moments that sets the tone for what the next half century is going to look like," he said. "it is up to us."
"Another way to look at it is, you know America kind of has these chapters, for like 30 or 40 years at a time," he said. "There's the New Deal chapter. There's the Reagan chapter ... then Donald Trump and a hostile takeover of Republican Party. Now we're starting a new chapter. Let's make sure it's good."
Buttigieg would also be the first gay, or at least the first openly gay man, to serve as president, or be a major party nominee.
It didn't come up at the rally. It didn't need to. He went straight from the rally to leading the 2019 Austin Pride Parade, marching down Congress Avenue from the Capitol alongside two supporters - Austin Mayor Steve Adler, and City Council Member Jimmy Flannigan. the first openly gay man to serve on the Austin City Council.
Earlier in the day, Adler and Flanagan hosted a fundraiser for Buttigieg, who flew in from Iowa to Austin Saturday. Tickets were $1,000 and $2,800.
Kathy Gallion, 62, said she came to the rally to see Buttigieg in person, unedited. She had been impressed by his smarts and even keel and ability to stay positive and above the fray. She also liked the fact that Trump had so far not been able to get his number. She said the president tried to apply a nickname to him, but it didn't take. She said she had not been as excited by a politician since Texas Gov Ann Richards.
Buttigieg was the first political love for Ashley Simon, 31, of Austin, who works in HR, and likes the fact that he is a candidate of her generation, shaped by the same life experiences and traumas. The Buford rally was the first political event she ever attended.
For all his being different than the crowd, she said, he also fits classic American expectations - from being a veteran with service in Afghanistan, to owning two dogs, one with only one eye.
"How more American can you get," said Simon, wearing a shirt devoted to Buttigieg's dogs
Indeed, Buttigieg, with his close-cropped hair, spoke in the 100-plus heat wearing a starched white shirt and tie, his shirt cuffs rolled up just a smidgen. He didn't come out as gay until he was 33, and was soon enough married to a man named Chasten, who has taken Buttigieg's name. One woman in the crowd wore a "Chasten for first gentleman" T-shirt.
Austin has been a kind of touchstone for his campaign. It was a CNN town hall during South By Southwest in March that introduced him to a mass audience for the first time. With a memorable performance, Buttigieg, Harvard-educated, Rhodes Scholar, speaker of seven languages, went from novelty candidate to the real deal. The South by Southwest coup came even as former U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke was teasing his incipient presidential candidacy at the premier of "Running with Beto," an exhilarating documentary about his close but losing challenge to U.S. Ted Cruz in 2018.
O'Rourke go in the race in mid-March followed by Buttigieg a month later.
In the months since, Buttigieg and O'Rourke have swapped spots politically - with Buttigieg emerging as the next new thing after O'Rourke, the fresher darling of the media and donors, raising an astonishing $24.8 million in the second quarter of 2020, more than any other Democratic candidate. He is at 6.5% in the most recent RealClearPolitics polling average, while O'Rourke is at 2%.
More personally, Adler endorsed Buttiigieg, as did Flannigan. Adler would introduce O'Rourke at Austin rallies in his Senate campaign and when he first entered the presidential race. But he considers the younger Buttigieg his mentor as a mayor, and close friend. He was chosen by Buttigieg to introduce him at his kickoff announcement in South Bend.
Adler introduced Buttigieg Saturday night, praising him to the hilt, and returning to the stage after Buttigieg spoke to read audience questions to the candidate, noting that he had been at rallies with a thousand people before (the campaign estimated the crowd at closer to 750), "but I have never been to a rally of a thousand before where the candidate insisted on taking questions."
It was a remark that would have cut O'Rourke, who took pride in taking questions at teeming town hall after own hall, to the quick.
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