Pete Buttigieg, the out gay mayor of South Bend, Indiana, has taken his exploratory campaign for US president to another level — at least that’s what the latest Iowa polls and his fundraising numbers are indicating.
Buttigieg moved into third place, with 11 percent of the vote, in a March 21-24 Emerson poll of likely Iowa caucus-goers, reflecting a significant boost from only two months ago when his name yielded zero percent in the same poll. His promising showing in the pivotal early 2020 primary state comes on the heels of a widely viewed CNN town hall event earlier this month during which he most notably took aim at his state’s homophobic former governor, Vice President Mike Pence.
In Emerson’s poll, he trails only the two early frontrunners in the race: former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. Emerson’s poll also shows that Buttigieg has seemingly cut into Sanders’ lead among younger voters: While Sanders still has the support of 44 percent of 19-29 year olds, Buttigieg is second with 22 percent.
The man whose constituents call “Mayor Pete” has been traveling widely, and not just to the early primary states. He has held fundraisers from coast to coast — in New York and California, among other places — and most recently has held campaign events in South Carolina.
Buttigieg’s rise has forced his campaign to react accordingly. His campaign manager, Mike Schmuhl, said the campaign is planning to double its staff from 20 people to 40 and has rented a large campaign headquarters in South Bend, according to CNN. The campaign hauled in more than $600,000 in one day after the CNN town hall and then pulled in an additional $1 million in the following days.
The 37-year-old Buttigieg’s surge has allowed him to qualify for the first presidential debate — which requires candidates to register at least one percent in the polls or raise a minimum of $65,000 — and he will also participate in Human Rights Campaign’s LGBTQ-centered forum for 2020 Democratic presidential candidates, which is slated for October 10.
Mayor Pete discussed his own coming out experience during the March 10 town hall and called for the passage of the Equality Act, which is a bill re-introduced in Congress that would ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
Buttigieg, who has also opened up about his Episcopalian faith, targeted Pence during the town hall for his notorious work on the state’s anti-LGBTQ Freedom Restoration Act and his unwavering support of President Donald Trump.
“When Mike Pence divided our state in 2015 with the Freedom Restoration Act, Democrats, and Republicans, business leaders, came together and revolted alongside progressives and showed me that there’s a belief in decency that stands against that kind of social extremism,” Buttigieg said.
He added, “How could he allow himself to become the cheerleader of the porn star presidency? Is it that he stopped ... believing in Scripture when he started believing Donald Trump? I don’t know.”
Buttigieg is rising in popularity as an outsider, though he has come to national attention since at least 2016. After that year’s presidential election, he put his name forward as a candidate for chair of the Democratic National Committee before conceding on the final day of the race to former Secretary of Labor Tom Perez, who remains in that role.
Buttigieg has earned praise from key names in the party, including President Barack Obama’s former chief strategist, David Axelrod, who attended his wedding and was impressed by the mayor’s performance during the town hall.
“I have rarely seen a candidate make better use of televised Town Hall than @PeteButtigieg is on @CNN tonight,” Axelrod said in a tweet the night of the town hall. “Crisp, thoughtful and relatable. He’ll be a little less of a long shot tomorrow.”