NEW YORK – Democrat Pete Buttigieg is criss-crossing New Hampshire on a mission: introduce himself and his centrist policies to shrewd, often independent-minded voters while convincing them he is the relatable, articulate visionary in the 2020 presidential race.
During a four-day bus tour through The Granite State that concludes Monday, Buttigieg, the millennial mayor of South Bend, Indiana, has laid out his case for why he, and not the more experienced front-runners twice his age, is the party’s best shot at ousting President Donald Trump.
The 37-year-old has seen his stock rise substantially in Iowa, the state that votes first next February in the party nomination race.
In New Hampshire, which votes second, the verdict is still out, and Buttigieg is pouring time and resources into the small New England state to convert voters.
Can an even-keeled, pragmatic, values-oriented candidate who may not ramp up the decibel levels or call for political revolution defeat Trump?
“Folks are usually looking for the opposite of what they just had, and I would argue that I’m as opposite from this president as it gets,” Buttigieg told AFP late Saturday on his blue-and-yellow coach as it rolled towards his fifth campaign event of the day.
In town halls and barn parties, Buttigieg delivers a crisp stump speech, describing his goal of unifying a divided nation after Trump’s polarizing presidency.
It won’t come through radical and costly ideas, he stresses, but policies that reflect more realistic advances and fiscal restraint to address issues like health care and climate change.
“I’m running to be the president who can stand on the rubble that day when the Trump presidency is finally behind us, pick up the pieces and guide us toward a future where we are dealing with those problems together,” Buttigieg told a few hundred people crammed into a barn in New Hampton.
He exudes a calming sense of reason. Unlike his main competitors — former Vice President Joe Biden, Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders — Buttigieg rarely raises his voice while campaigning.
He is a technocrat who dreams big and is looking to inspire a broad swath of voters, even though he readily acknowledges he can’t satisfy everyone.
“The thing I like about Mayor Peter is the fact that He’s not too far left, he’s not too far right,” said Michael McLeod, an undecided voter in his fifties who is leaning toward Buttigieg.
“He’s in the middle of the road about health care (and) the climate change issue” as well as student debt, McLeod adds.
Voters voice respect for Buttigieg’s record as a military veteran who served in Afghanistan, and as a small-town mayor making executive decisions.
He occupies the same centrist lane as Biden, the front-runner whose shaky performance in debates, stale campaign appearances and advanced age has caused many here to re-evaluate their support.
“I’m not sold on him,” T.J. Thran, a 25-year-old video producer, said of Biden. “He doesn’t have my heart.”
Thran appreciates Buttigieg’s articulate delivery and appeal for inclusion.
But he worries that as the first gay American to launch a viable presidential campaign, Buttigieg might turn off some working-class voters in battleground states.
“I believe love is love and leadership is leadership,” Thran said at Buttigieg’s Lebanon town hall, where more than 1,000 people showed up.
Voters at Buttigieg events said his sexuality played little part in their decision-making. But many said they fret over rapid, overwhelming change.
Retiree Paul Elkins of Moultonborough is wary of Warren’s Medicare for All universal health care plan, which she projects would cost some $20.5 trillion.
“She’s a little bit too far — or a lot too far — left for me. And I find that Mayor Pete is a more moderate candidate,” Elkins, 62, said at the barn rally.
“I like what he has to say on policies, but it’s also important that we beat Donald Trump. And I think somebody that’s too far left, that may not happen.”
Buttigieg says his proposal would not kick anyone off their private insurance and costs $1.5 trillion, a fraction of Warren’s.
Buttigieg’s bus took him along blue highways and back roads, through picturesque towns like Franklin, where he toured local businesses including Outdoor New England.
Owner Marty Parichand told the candidate of plans for a whitewater park on the river that flows through Franklin, and how half the battle was getting people to believe in a small town’s future.
“Reminds me of home,” Buttigieg said.