Pete Buttigieg Isn’t Ours Alone Anymore

Reporters surround presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg.
South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg meets the media in New Hampshire.

Adam Wren

Pete Buttigieg isn’t ours alone anymore. Somewhere between the launch of his presidential exploratory committee on January 23 and the moment he stepped on a platform Friday night in Manchester, New Hampshire, at the Currier Museum of Art to address an overflow crowd of 300 people screaming “Pete” and “President Pete,” we’ve had to let him go.

Maybe it was when the South Bend mayor delivered a breakout performance at his March 11 CNN town hall, when he stepped up his criticism of his fellow Hoosier and Vice President Mike Pence by calling him a “cheerleader for the porn star presidency.”

Maybe it was when MSNBC Morning Joe host Joe Scarborough compared him to former President Barack Obama.

Whenever it happened, it’s given away to what a litany of news anchors and print journalists and talking heads have labeled a “moment,” a “bubble,” a “boomlet.”

The first of two meet-and-greets on his third visit to New Hampshire this year wasn’t even supposed to be at this museum, but the campaign had to switch venues at the last minute for more room. It was originally scheduled to be at a craft brewery and taproom across town called To Share. Which is exactly what residents of South Bend and thousands of Buttigieg boosters back Indianapolis are having to learn how to do with the 37-year-old Democrat.

When he arrived last night around 7:30 p.m., he made a beeline outside to where a few hundred people who had RSVP’d to the event but couldn’t get inside fumed, waiting for two hours in the parking lot amid chilly temperatures. But that anger broke into cheers when Buttigieg climbed atop a park bench to speak.

“We got a bigger venue,” he told them. “But I heard there’s this pesky fire code.”

Later, inside, he gave a longer version of his stump speech, where he repeated his “bumper sticker” version of his platform: Freedom. Security. Democracy.

Before he spoke, a man in the crowd somewhat inexplicably yelled out, “Go Hoosiers!” Never mind that the Harvard and Oxford grad didn’t go to Indiana University and lives in South Bend. It was as if Buttigieg had suddenly warmed him to the every resident of Indiana.

“Now, I acknowledge that I am not the prototypical messenger for this or any message in American presidential campaign,” Buttigieg told the crowd. “I get that. I’m probably not what you picture when you’re thinking about your next president.”

The audience corrected him: “You are!” several shouted.

Buttigieg talked up his Midwestern bonafides. “I’m proud to come from the industrial Midwest community that has a lot in common with any community where young people grow up getting that message that success has to do with getting out, because coming home changed my life,” he said. “And seeing that city grow again is the most powerful example I can think of, to the idea that the only way anything gets better is if we turn back the clock.”

After his speech, Buttigeg met the press. Surrounded in a gaggle by nearly 30 national and international reporters, he took half a dozen questions.

“You mentioned this being a marathon,” one reporter asked. “How do you keep this energy going with a lot of debate about it being a bubble? How do you keep the bubble from popping?”

“Well first of all, substance,” Buttigieg said. “We got to make sure we’re continuing to demonstrate that ideas behind these big-picture values that we talk about.”

Will the Buttigieg bubble soon burst? Is Buttigieg’s nascent campaign a moment or a movement? Last night in New Hampshire, it felt like something more than that.