Inside Pete Buttigieg’s Indianapolis Fundraiser, And His Next Campaign Moves

Presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg at a campaign event in New Hampshire

Photo: Chuck Kennedy/PFA

“Somebody must have made a killing on the Irish betting markets online,” said Pete Buttigieg, standing in front of more than 100 of the city’s most well-heeled movers and shakers at a fundraiser on a cold and snowy February afternoon. “Because no matter how much we believed in this vision, what has happened in the last few weeks is extraordinary.”

It’s unclear what Buttigieg’s actual odds on the Irish betting markets were for the candidate to emerge from Iowa and New Hampshire with 23 delegates, leading Sanders’ 21, Warren’s 8, Klobuchar’s 7 and Biden’s 6. But they couldn’t have been good. In fact, after essentially tying Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders in Iowa and placing second in New Hampshire, the Irish betting site now place Buttigiegs chances at being the nominee at eight-to-one, compared to Sanders six-to-four and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloombergs two-to-one.

On Thursday, after weeks on the hustings in Iowa and New Hampshire, Buttigieg swung through Indianapolis before heading to a Nevada campaign stop. What a thrill to be back home again in Indiana, he said. I was worried the dogs would not recognize me. But turns out as long as you give them treats, Buddy and Truman will forgive my being absent for a while.

The room greeted Buttigieg like a conquering hero. The further I go, the more I admire the different places around the country we get to go, but also, the more I love my Indiana home, and Im so glad to be here with you. 

The current delegate leader in the Democratic presidential contest waxed poetic about the improbability of his run and relished what amounted to a hometown audience. Buttgieg delivered a nine-minute version of his stump speech and took questions from influential Hoosier donors on topics ranging from his outreach to Latinos to winning former Republican voters. The confab took place inside a 16,600-square-foot home situated in a rarefied gated community on the citys northwest side off Michigan Road. Gathered in the living room, designed in a style once described by its owner as Frank Lloyd Wright meets Japan, donors and guests noshed on egg salad and cucumber sandwiches. Among those in attendance: the shopping mall scion and Democratic mega donor Deb Simon; Emmis Communications CEO Jeff Smulyan (full disclosure, Emmis owns Indianapolis Monthly); Democratic National Committee member Cordelia Lewis-Burks, the first Indiana superdelegate to back Barack Obamas candidacy in 2008; and Buttigiegs Indiana State Director Arielle Brandy.

Evansville City Council President Alex Burton, only the second black council president of his southern Indiana city, began the program by becoming the latest African American elected official to endorse Buttigieg. Mayor Joe Hogsett, who endorsed Buttigieg last Thursday before filing papers for the candidate to appear on Indianas May 5 primary ballot, introduced the mayor.

Buttigieg turned introspective at one point, acknowledging his introverted nature:

“It’s not maybe the most instinctive thing for me to go into a room full of strangers and stick my hand out, interrupt them as they’re enjoying their tenderloin, as I learned how to do back in 2010 when I was running for state treasurer, and then I started thinking to myself, well, think about how Joe Hogsett would handle this room.”

The campaign declined to disclose how much the fundraiser netted, though late last year, an aide said they didnt do events that wouldnt draw at least $100,000. Whatever the haul, Buttigieg needs a lot of cash.

In the coming days, Buttigieg faces a process that is like building an IndyCar while driving it. The two remaining early states, Nevada and South Carolina, hold their contests on February 22 and February 29, respectively. Buttigieg doubled his staff in Nevada this week, and dispatched 55 to South Carolina. In a RealClear Politics average of polls, he ranks fifth in both states, polling in single digits. They will be a test of whether he can diversify his coalition of voters. So as we prepare to go West for the first in the West contest in Nevada, as we head to a state that looks like the future, I ask you to join us in taking a stand for a better tomorrow,he said in his speech on Tuesday in Nashua, New Hampshire.

Looming in the distance are the 14 Super Tuesday states that vote on March 3, including massive, diverse states such as California and Texas, but also whiter Midwestern states such as Minnesota, where the campaign thinks they can make inroads in the suburbs, exurbs and rural areas, particularly in counties that flipped from Obama to Trump in 2016. In fact, they launched a series of digital ads in seven of those states this week.  In order to defeat Trump, the Democratic nominee will have to turnout our base, solidify our gains in the suburbs, and reach into exurban and rural areas and bring voters home, said Hari Sevugan, deputy campaign  manager.

Also this week, the campaign announced that it was adding staff in every Super Tuesday state, and had some 25,000 volunteers across the 165 congressional districts that will cast votes then.

“We are building the campaign that will not only win this nomination but will defeat Donald Trump in November,” said Samantha Steelman, the campaign’s organizing director for Super Tuesday states. “To compete in all the states on Super Tuesday, you need a massive network of grassroots volunteers. For months, we have had a team building that organization by harnessing the energy and grassroots momentum behind Pete and turning it into real organizing work.”

Back at the fundraiser Thursday, Buttigieg acknowledged the primary might stretch on for some time, alluding to Indianas May 5 primary. 

“Who knows?” Buttigieg said. “Maybe we’ll clinch the nomination on Hoosier soil.”