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2020 contender Buttigieg enjoying momentum as he returns to N.H.

  • South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg speaks to a crowd about his Presidential run during the Democratic monthly breakfast held at the Circle of Friends Community Center in Greenville, S.C. Saturday, March 23, 2019. (AP Photo/Richard Shiro) Richard Shiro

For the Monitor
Published: 4/5/2019 2:36:26 PM

Pete Buttigieg returns to New Hampshire for the first time in nearly a month as a candidate on the move.

Thanks to tons of media buzz and coverage on the cable news networks, a surge in the crowds on the campaign trail, and an impressive fundraising haul, the South Bend, Ind., mayor has gone from a longshot to a legitimate contender for the Democratic presidential nomination.

“It’s extraordinary,” Buttigieg said in a recent interview with the Monitor. “It’s early but it’s encouraging.”

Buttigieg drew some 1,000 people to an event earlier this week at Boston’s Northeastern University. And his campaign moved Friday night’s meet-and-greet in Manchester from a small craft brewery to the nearby Currier Museum of Art because they needed a larger venue.

Saturday, the 37-year-old Afghanistan war veteran – who would become the nation’s first openly gay president if he makes it to the White House – will headline a meet-and-greet with the Merrimack Democrats at Gibson’s Bookstore in downtown Concord.

Buttigieg recollected that he started noticing the larger crowds and increased buzz during his last visit to the first-in-the-nation presidential primary state.

“Actually, the first time I tasted it was in Portsmouth,” he said, recalling a stop on March 8 after he headlined “Politics and Eggs” at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics. “It was a Friday evening and we came over for what I thought was going to be a meet-and-greet in a bar, and it felt more like rally when we got there. That was just the beginning.”

Two days later, Buttigieg grabbed national headlines for his performance during a town hall televised live by CNN in prime time.

“Once the CNN town hall happened, it felt like a step change in the level of energy and interest in what we’re doing,” he noted.

“I went from making phone calls and going in front of groups and introducing myself and explaining how to pronounce my name to encountering people who really take an interest in what we’re doing and building support that way,” Buttigieg added.

As for his name – for those still figuring it out – it’s pronounced “boot-edge-edge,” as explained in a tweet by husband Chasten Buttigieg.

This week, Buttigieg was the first 2020 contender to announce his first quarter fundraising figures, reporting that he raised $7 million from January through March. Campaign cash is an important barometer early on in an election cycle of a candidate’s popularity and campaign’s clout.

As for popularity, Buttigieg is now registering in the mid-single digits in the most recent national and state public opinion polls.

He’s far behind former vice president Joe Biden – who’s likely to launch a White House bid in the coming weeks – and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, the front-runners in polling. But he’s in the same range in the polls as candidates with much higher name ID or bigger war chests, like Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Kamala Harris of California and Cory Booker of New Jersey.

For Buttigieg, the building wave of coverage, interest and support is allowing him to raise the bar when it comes to expectations and to build a much more robust campaign operation.

“I think we’ll be able to compete,” he highlighted.

So what’s behind the Buttigieg surge?

Many of the 17 current contenders for the Democratic nomination are on the same page when it comes to policy – Buttigieg, like many of his rivals, supports the Green New Deal, “Medicare for all,” scrapping the Electoral College and increasing the number of justices on the Supreme Court.

But he indicated that “tone and messenger are going to be really important in this cycle.”

“Something like 80 percent of our policy positions are actually going to converge. So a lot of it will be what kind of standing do you have to talk about these issues,” he explained.

He also pointed to his resume – the mayor of a smaller-sized industrial city in the Midwest, as well as his military background – he’s one of just two veterans running for president, along with Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii.

“I think that’s enabled me to reach people in a different way with our message,” he said.

But the increased attention also comes with increased scrutiny.

Buttigieg’s higher profile has put him on Republicans’ radar, with the GOP dismissing the mayor as quick to embrace “radical” ideas.

“From packing the Supreme Court, to implementing the Green New Deal and abolishing the Electoral College, Pete Buttigieg hasn’t met a radical idea he hasn’t endorsed. Despite being a Midwestern Mayor, Pete Buttigieg has quickly embraced the ideals of far-left Democrats that would raise taxes on Granite Staters, expand government and diminish the Constitution,” RNC spokesperson Mandi Merritt told the Monitor.

Buttigieg says the recent surge in attention isn’t going to his head.

“I was at the airport the other day and as I made my way to the gate, four people came up to me and that’s a first,” he shared. “But a good 400 people did not come up to me.”

And he knows there’s a long way to go.

“Every time you think you’re penetrating all over the place and you start believing your own hype, you’ve got to remember that 90 percent of people haven’t tuned into this process at all.”

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