CEDAR RAPIDS — In the final weeks before the 2020 Democratic presidential nominating process kicks off in earnest with the Feb. 3 Iowa caucuses, voters like Kent and Joy Short came to get a firsthand look at South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, one of the highest-polling candidates in the field.
The Iowa City couple wants someone who could be supported by independents, Republicans and Democrats. Buttigieg, 38, would qualify, they said, but their No. 1 priority is nominating someone who can defeat President Donald Trump in a general election, and on that front they are less sure.
As they looked around the Veterans Memorial Building in downtown Cedar Rapids where Buttigieg held a 60-minute rally in a packed hall with hundreds of people — after a full day of campaigning in Eastern Iowa — they saw very little diversity, and that was a worry, they said.
“That is a concern I have — whether he can get support from African Americans,” Kent Short said.
They are open to supporting Buttigieg, but they still are leaning toward caucusing for former Vice President Joe Biden. They also like the ideas of businessmen Tom Steyer and Andrew Yang.
One idea that resonated with them is Buttigieg’s plan for a civilian volunteer corps similar to the Peace Corps or AmeriCorps, which Buttigieg has said can only support a fraction of the applications, but for domestic efforts.
Buttigieg is calling for the creation of a voluntary national service system with 1 million paid service positions per year.
A component would be a community health corps with a focus on mental health, where people could learn about the field. It could potentially be an entry into a sector with major workforce shortages, he said.
“So people can work in their communities, do big things and have an opportunity to give to their fellow Americans,” Buttigieg said in Cedar Rapids. “Just like I did with fellow service members but without having to go war to get there.”
In his closing remarks to sway undecided voters, Buttigieg pitched himself as a consensus builder with military experience who would still fight for more progressive issues, such as income inequality.
“The time has come for us to insist that everyone in America who works for a living get paid more and we start taxing wealth more than we tax work instead of the other way around,” he said. “And support our workers and support organized labor that is standing up for working conditions.”
He also tried to assuage fears he lacks the experience for a general election, comparing himself to former President Barack Obama, who was young and relatively unknown when his Iowa caucuses performance helped propel him to victory.
“Join me and make history one more time,” Buttigieg said. “What we insist is we not only win the election, but win the era. Are you ready to turn some heads around the country?”
Brady Vanlo, 20, of Iowa City and a University of Iowa sophomore, traveled to Cedar Rapids for the rally. He decided to support Buttigieg after a campaign stop at a park near campus in September and has seen him several times since. He liked his “Medicare for all who want it” stance, noting he and his family like their current plan and wouldn’t want to be forced to give it up under a mandatory system. He has enjoyed watching Buttigieg’s rallies grow larger and larger as the campaign has gained support.
“I want to go into politics in the future, and I see him as something of a role model,” Vanlo said.
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