In Iowa City campaign stop, Buttigieg says ‘we’ve got to win’ to decide America’s long-term future

Pete Buttigieg strayed from delving deep into policy specifics, but spoke of his long-term vision for America in Iowa City on Saturday.


Ryan Adams

2020 Democratic presidential-nomination candidate Pete Buttigieg speaks during the town hall at the Wildwood Smokehouse & Saloon on May 18, 2019. The Iowa City event marked the third of four Iowa campaign stops for Buttigieg this weekend.

Marissa Payne, Editor-in-Chief

Pete Buttigieg pitched his candidacy for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination in Iowa City on Saturday as a fight to unite Americans around protecting the nation’s core values of freedom, patriotism, and democracy.

“We’re pretty much on one of those blank pages between chapters in the American story,” he said in a crowded Wildwood Smokehouse & Saloon, his second stop in Iowa City and his first since officially declaring his bid for the White House.

Outside, cars filled the parking lot and lined both sides of the road with people eager to see the South Bend, Indiana mayor speak.

“Whatever we do now will decide not just what the next four years will look like, but the next 40,” he said. “That’s why we’ve got to win the election.”

Buttigieg, 37, is one among a field of 23 Democrats vying for the presidency — or, as the candidate put it, a hyperbolic “2,000 Democrats.”

RELATED: Pete Buttigieg’s pitch to Iowa: a Midwest millennial can win in 2020

An April 11 Monmouth University poll of Iowa Democrats showed 9 percent support Buttigieg, falling behind only former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Sarah Prineas, the public-relations chair of the Johnson County Democrats, who personally endorses Buttigieg, said he is a uniter who makes people feel like they “are in this together.”

“He unites us not despite our differences,” she said, “but — yeah — because of them.”

Ryan Adams
2020 presidential-nomination candidate Pete Buttigieg speaks during the town hall at the Wildwood Smokehouse & Saloon on May 18, 2019. The Iowa City event marked the third of four Iowa campaign stops for Buttigieg this weekend.

In other moments, Buttigieg sought to look beyond party lines, and touched on the issue of the Democrats’ message often being centered around GOP actions.

“We can’t have the only internal debate among Democrats to be how fiercely to oppose Republican policies,” he said.

However, he did not focus the town hall around any specific policy proposals.

Other Democratic candidates have already begun to delve into policy, such as California Sen. Kamala Harris’ plan to raise teacher pay and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s proposal to eliminate student-loan debt for certain borrowers.

Seizing on recent headlines, Buttigieg said conservatives have built up the idea that freedom is something only conservatives care about — with an area he deemed to be an exception: “They don’t think women’s reproductive freedom deserves to be outside of government.”

His visit comes on the heels of efforts in multiple states — including Alabama, Georgia, Missouri — to ban abortions at the sign of a “fetal heartbeat.” In the last week, multiple state legislatures have passed bills similar to Iowa’s that ban abortions after a heartbeat is detected around the sixth week of pregnancy.

“If you’re a victim of rape and you go to seek abortion care and the doctor who treats you could be imprisoned for longer than your rapist — that is not freedom,” he said.

He addressed inquiries from younger audience members, first taking a young girl’s simple question: “What are you going to do about [Russian President Vladimir] Putin?”

“They attack our democracy by using social media to trick us into turning against each other and by helping this president get elected because they believed he would make America weaker, and they were probably right,” he said.

Ryan Adams
2020 Democratic presidential-nomination candidate Pete Buttigieg responds to a young attendee’s question during the town hall at the Wildwood Smokehouse & Saloon on May 18, 2019. The Iowa City event marked the third of four Iowa campaign stops for Buttigieg this weekend.

He said his goal would be to make sure the Russians don’t interfere in U.S. elections again, but he noted “for that to work, we’ve got to have our own house in order first.”

Later on, an 11-year-old girl sought Buttigieg’s advice about bullying.

Buttigieg thanked her for leading the way in talking about bullying and said he, too, had experiences with bullying when he was growing up. He said everybody who’s different can be bullied, but the secret is everybody’s different in some way.

“… The person who’s bullying you probably has something a little broken in them,” he said. “… They are trying to control the situation because something else in their life isn’t going well.”

One person in the audience said Buttigieg’s description of a bully “sounds familiar,” referencing President Trump without using his name.

“I think it really matters that we have a president who doesn’t show that kind of behavior. [It] is one of the reasons I’m running for president,” Buttigieg responded.

Compared with others vying for the White House, Buttigieg is the youngest contender. By the Feb. 3, 2020 Iowa caucus date, Buttigieg will be 38 — only three years older than the federal minimum age required to be president.

On stage, he quipped about his age — “sometimes they call me kiddo when I’m trying to order a beer,” he responded before taking audience questions — but attendees didn’t express concern with his youth.

Iowa City resident Hank Kimbrough, 30 said he supports Buttigieg because the candidate seeks to fix the mechanisms of democracy, which he believes need to be addressed before turning to key policy issues.

“He has more executive experience than our current president had at the time,” Kimbrough said. “… He’s young, which I think we need to focus on getting the next generation of leaders through.”