COUNCIL BLUFFS, Iowa (CN) – Democratic presidential candidate and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg called for the country to unite and end the “chaos” of the Trump administration at a campaign stop in Iowa Monday.
“Visualize the day the sun comes up and Donald Trump is no longer the president of the United States,” Buttigieg urged his supporters. “Put that chaos in the rearview mirror.”
Characterizing the nation as “worn out from fighting,” he spoke about protecting the country by countering external and internal threats with a strong sense of patriotism and striving for the common good.
“You cannot love a country if you hate half the people who make it up,” he said.
According to the Council Bluffs Police Department, 2,100 people navigated long longs to fill the gymnasium of Abraham Lincoln High School to hear Buttigieg speak. The event was the last of four town halls and conversation gatherings across western Iowa for Buttigieg, with stops in Red Oak, Creston and Atlantic rounding out his day.
Buttigieg’s supporters at the Council Bluffs town hall said they were drawn to the candidate because of his inclusiveness, eloquence and ability to think on his feet.
“He has plans to engage different people all over the United States. That’s what we’re missing,” said Amy Hannan of Mead, Nebraska. When she told her Republican father that she was coming to see Buttigieg, her father responded: “’I kind of like him.’”
Tiara Kuhlman of Lincoln, Nebraska, said she is a Buttigieg supporter because she can envision him being president.
“Listening to him talk, there is just amazing energy,” she said.
Larry Kofoed of Council Bluffs, however, wished that the candidate had mentioned more about his plans to reform the VA health care system. Kofoed said he suffers from cancer, kidney disease and nervous system disorders as a result of being exposed to Agent Orange while he was a soldier in Vietnam. He has almost died twice in the past year and must wait until January before finding out if his request for treatment will be approved or denied again.
“We took an oath to protect the Constitution and the people of this country. Now the very people we swore to protect are denying our claims,” Kofoed said.
Even though his question was not picked during a Q&A segment, he is focused on Buttigieg as his candidate, because Buttigieg is himself a veteran and understands the problems veterans face.
Earlier in the day, Buttigieg released his plan for “Dignity and Security in Retirement” that emphasizes choice in health care plans, preserving Medicare and establishing a long-term care plan program that would grant seniors $90 per day to provide for their care.
“Maybe you didn’t figure me for the retirement guy,” he said, poking fun at his being a 37-year-old Millennial focused on retirement issues amid a trio of septuagenarians who make up the frontrunners of the race for the Democratic nomination.
The plan, what Buttigieg called his “Gray New Deal” during the town hall, claims that setting the minimum wage at $15 per hour would also benefit millions of new caregivers who are needed to care for a population that is older than ever before.
A recent poll from Iowa pollster Ann Selzer showed Buttigieg surging to lead all contenders in the Hawkeye State, with 25% of support from likely caucus-goers. This was followed, last week, by a poll from St. Anselm College that showed Buttigieg in the lead with support from 25% of voters in New Hampshire – more than twice the number he polled at there in previous months.
As a candidate who began with virtually no name recognition, Buttigieg has pushed for a strong showing in Iowa. This is Buttigieg’s 18th trip to campaign in the state, where a retail politics approach is required.
The numbers could be anomalies at this point but with Iowa voting on Feb. 3 and New Hampshire one week later on Feb. 11, the mayor’s surge appears to be well-timed. Both polls show that a group of four candidates – Buttigieg, former Vice President Joe Biden, Senator Elizabeth Warren, and Senator Bernie Sanders – are far ahead of the other candidates, but the recently-announced campaign of former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg could cut into the support for fellow centrists such as Biden and Buttigieg.
In a candid moment at the end of the town hall, after talking about how he plays board games with his husband to unwind after a busy day of campaigning, Buttigieg acknowledged that his unlikely rise in prominence has perhaps even caught him by surprise, saying that running for president “is a strange thing to do to your life.”
“But running for office is an act of hope,” he said in the next breath. “I wouldn’t do this if I didn’t think we could make the world better.”