DES MOINES — Pete Buttigieg figured this early in his presidential campaign he still would be helping people learn how to pronounce and spell his last name.
Instead, Buttigieg — pronounced “boot-edge-edge” — is enjoying an early surge, garnering the attention of Democratic voters in Iowa and increased support in polling on the race for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.
Buttigieg said he can feel that growing support on the campaign trail, including in Iowa, where he spent the day Tuesday after making his candidacy official this past weekend in South Bend, Ind., where he has been mayor since 2012.
On Tuesday, Buttigieg’s town hall in Fort Dodge was standing room only, and more than 1,600 attended a rally in Des Moines, which started out as a meet-and-greet with 50 people before interest exploded, organizers said.
He is to make two more appearances in Iowa on Wednesday.
“To have vaulted into the higher tier as we have is really encouraging,” Buttigieg said during an interview before the rally. “But I also know that this is just the beginning. We have a lot of work to do.”
Despite his lack of national profile before entering the race, Buttigieg in recent polls, both nationally and in myriad states, has been placing among the second-tier candidates behind polling front-runners Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders.
In an Iowa poll published last week by Monmouth College, Buttigieg, at 9 percentage points, trailed only Biden (27 percent) and Sanders (16 percent).
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“It’s a long road that’s going to require a lot of quality time, but it’s very encouraging to see how the message has resonated,” Buttigieg said.
The 37-year-old Buttigieg, one of 19 Democrats seeking the nomination, is the first millennial and first openly gay presidential candidate for a major political party.
Two men interrupted Buttigieg’s remarks at the rally, yelling, “Remember Sodom and Gomorrah,” a Biblical reference that has been used historically to condemn homosexualtiy.
After one of the men was led away by security, Buttigieg said to the crowd, “The good news is the condition of my soul is in the hands of God, but the Iowa caucuses are up to you.”
Buttigieg said during the interview it is important for Democrats to regain the trust of voters who voted for Republican President Donald Trump after previously voting for President Barack Obama, a Democrat. Iowa had more counties that flipped their presidential vote than any state.
“I want those voters back,” Buttigieg said. “These voters are not out of reach. But they’re out of reach if we never even try to reach them.”
Republican Party of Iowa chairman Jeff Kaufmann said in a statement that Buttigieg “will fit right in” with the Democratic field that “continues moving farther left.”
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