Of the many voters Starting Line has spoken to about Pete Buttigieg around Iowa, the common sentiment they all share is that they believe he’s trustworthy.
In his own words, Buttigieg said he wanted to demonstrate his commitment to openness and authenticity. So, from this past Saturday to Tuesday, the South Bend mayor held a four-day bus tour with press riding along and all remarks on the record.
“There’s a level of depth you can get here that you can’t really get in another format,” he said.
On the bus, every topic was on the table. While a lot of the conversation was about the news of the day or the state of the race, Buttigieg also answered questions about his personal life and the way he feels about his candidacy and campaign.
How He Comes Across
Across all six stops this reporter went along on — Boone, Webster City, Iowa Falls, Waterloo, Elkader and Dubuque — people said they were attracted to Buttigieg’s authenticity and his openness to other people. Many voters say that’s why they support him.
Courtney Tucker, in Dubuque, said, “I just enjoy his attitude about things. He’s down-to-earth. He’s personable.”
In Boone, Pam Hansen said, “He’s trustworthy. I believe it. He really does have Midwest values.”
Other voters called him well-spoken and articulate, and said that intelligence is part of his appeal.
Steven Brunk, at the Iowa Falls event, said, “I would say he’s on my list of potentials. He seems like he cares. He seems approachable.” For him, the one downside is that he thinks Buttigieg isn’t specific enough when talking about his plans.
Carrie Galvan, who’s running for Boone City Council, said, “He’s very eloquent, which allows people to buy into what he’s saying. And buy-in is important, it adds to the trustworthiness.”
On a cold, windy, rainy evening in Waterloo, Bill King said being outside to hear Buttigieg speak was absolutely worth it because of how well-spoken and articulate he is.
“We’ve gotta figure out how to make things work for everyone. And Pete’s right on that message,” he said. “I like his demeanor, and that he can control himself very well.”
Being LGBTQ in the Field
As the only openly gay presidential candidate, Buttigieg fielded a lot of questions about his experience being part of the community while having a national spotlight.
“When you know that there’s something historic about your campaign, you feel a level of responsibility that goes with that,” he said. “That being said, I’m not sure it’s different in kind from what already comes from running because there’s a level of responsibility that just goes with being a credible candidate for the American presidency, period.”
But he acknowledged that voters aren’t going to support him just for being a gay candidate.
“I think that’s a healthy pressure as well,” he said.
Buttigieg also addressed some criticism that he’s gotten from different LGBTQ media outlets that have said Buttigieg is either too gay or not gay enough. He also clarified what he meant when he said he doesn’t look at many of them anymore.
“You just tie yourself up in knots trying to figure out how to respond to that,” he said. “You’ve just got to be who you are, especially when you’ve gone through the journey of coming out, the last thing you want to do is come out and be in a place where you’re still wondering who you are. It helps to have a partner in life like my husband.
“And we’ve got to make sure that we don’t police the boundaries of belonging in our community in a way that could be harmful.”
The Effect on his Personal Life
A few times on the trail, Buttigieg talked about how campaigning has been a challenge on his personal life.
“It’s a lot to ask of a marriage,” he said. “But it also has, in some ways, brought us closer together.”
Buttigieg said Chasten has been a supportive, visible part of his campaign and they’ve come up with ways to make it easier by trying to travel together as much as possible and talking on the phone.
He said they also talked about how to handle the challenges, and potential attacks on him, before he got in the race.
In April, for example, Buttigieg was falsely accused of sexual assault by Jacob Wohl, a far-right conspiracy theorist.
“It’s one thing to think about it in the abstract and it’s one thing to actually think about it or see it and begin to realize all of the different flavors that that could come in,” he said. “The biggest thing on my mind was a sense of relief that it was so obviously a sham. And obviously we’ve got to have a game plan for a much more advanced version of what we’ve got.”
Through all of the challenges, Buttigieg said he’s tried to stay true to who he is, and voters seem to enjoy it.
Ash Bachman said she’s been a supporter for a while and she drove an hour to be at his Webster City event. She’ll vote in her first election in 2020, and Buttigieg’s biggest appeal is that he seems kind and positive.
“I agree with everything he stands for and he seems like a good-minded person,” she said. “He has a good vibe to him, and he seems more loving than our current president.”
When asked why he favored a calm tone opposed to other politicians’ fiery rhetoric, Buttigieg said he tries to focus on what he’s fighting for and he isn’t interested in being angry just for the sake of it. He was always quick to defend himself when asked why he doesn’t go after other candidates or get riled up.
“Look, it’s important to me that I am the same person on the stump with 600 people as I am here on the bus,” Buttigieg said. “But it’s also the case that you get to have a different kind of conversation.”
Most of the time, Buttigieg comes across as being composed and collected. On the bus, he said the last time he probably yelled was something football-related.
However, he did say that what Trump is doing to the country and the threat to democracy has made him angry.
“I want to remind people that the American project may or may not work out,” Buttigieg said. “Like, we all believe it. We have to believe in it as Americans. But also we have to make sure that it unfolds in a positive way. I think one of the signal features at the moment we’re living in is it’s calling into question whether America’s trajectory is actually one that always moves forward.”
He also said being from the Midwest has posed a benefit to him because the political style here is the way he’s used to talking to people.
“I also think there are certain attributes about the Midwest that are also political attributes of my generation, including an emphasis on authenticity, that are beneficial,” Buttigieg said.
And, ultimately, he said that being from the Midwest is something that the national stage needs.
“You don’t want to run as a regional candidate in a way that makes somebody from another region feel like you’re not speaking to them,” Buttigieg said. “But I think there’s an idea, not to be too romantic about it, that the middle of the country and the heartland holds a lot of the key to American politics. I think that idea’s not wrong and I think that helps us.”
by Nikoel Hytrek