A little more than a minute into Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s campaign rally in Coralville on Sunday, things took an unexpected turn. But before that, everything had gone according to expectations.
At every stop on his latest Iowa campaign swing, the South Bend mayor, who finished at the top of the crowded field of 2020 Democratic candidates in the most recent Iowa Poll, drew an impressively large audience. By the time the doors at the Coralville Marriott’s convention center opened on Sunday, almost 2,000 people were waiting in line.
Buttigieg has also picked up more endorsements recently from Iowa elected officials, ex-officials and other active Democrats. On Sunday, he was endorsed by Coralville Mayor Pro Tem Mitch Gross, who introduced Buttigieg at the rally. (Gross is a former teacher at Iowa City West High, and managed Zach Wahls’ successful campaign for state senate in 2018. Wahls has endorsed Elizabeth Warren for president.)
The first minute of Buttigieg’s speech felt expected, too. It echoed a campaign ad released at the beginning of November, called “Sun Comes Up.”
“Picture that first day the sun comes up on this country and Donald Trump is no longer the president of the United States,” Buttigieg tells a crowd in Des Moines in the ad.
“I want to begin by inviting you to picture, in as much detail, a day that is coming, one way or the other, to the United States of America,” Buttigieg began in Coralville. “And that is the day that the sun comes up in the United States, and Donald Trump is no longer the president of this country.”
As Buttigieg spoke, three silent protesters in the bleachers behind the stage unfurled banners.
“0% Support w/ Black Voters in S.C.,” “Climate Plan Fatally Lacking” and “We Need More Than Pete. Sincerely, Your Fellow Iowans,” were the messages on the three cloth banners.
The mayor clearly saw the banners when he turned in their direction, but didn’t acknowledge them and carried on with his prepared speech.
“Now, I think we’re all ready for that day. It can’t come soon enough,” Buttigieg said. “We’ve got to put the chaos behind us. We’ve got to put the corruption behind us. We’ve got to move out from the days when a tweet from the Oval Office sets us wondering all day what policies just changed.”
At the same time, a campaign worker beneath the bleachers was telling the protesters — Hilah Kohen, Stephon Berry and Owen Stiles — they had to surrender their banners or leave. They chose to leave.
When the banners were folded and the three were exiting the bleachers, Buttigieg decided to mention them.
“I want to acknowledge our friends who just came through. This is a competitive process. That’s fine. We welcome and support and hope to win over anybody who is not yet with us. And we appreciate and respect what anybody has to say,” he said, as the audience applauded.
Buttigieg continued, “Although I would humbly suggest that it’s better to do it by lifting up your candidate than trying to tear down others.”
Any Midwesterner would recognize the Indiana-born-and-raised Buttigieg’s tone of voice and use of the word “humbly” as the sort of passive-aggressive comment known as “[insert name of Midwestern state] Nice.”
Kohen explained to Little Village that Buttigieg’s implication that they were there as supporters of a different candidate was wrong. They attended the rally not to promote anyone, but because they had genuine concerns about Buttigieg’s policies, and knew he had engaged in discussions with protesters at other events, she said. (LV will publish an interview with Kohen and Berry on Friday.)
Finished with his moment of “Indiana Nice,” Buttigieg switched to a call for unity.
“Because of the 20 or 25 or however many people that ran for president or are running for president as Democrats, all but one will not be the nominee. And the moment we have a nominee, we have got to rally around that nominee to make sure that that day comes.”
The “that day comes” may seemed awkwardly grafted on to that final sentence, but it was a way for Buttigieg to get back to his prepared “sun comes up” remarks.
“So, when that day comes, we’re definitely going to be relieved of some of the problems we’re facing right now as a country,” he said. “But part of why I’m asking you to hold in mind that image about what it will be like when the sun comes up that day, is to remind you that our country’s problems aren’t going to go. Mitch [Gross] is right, that’s when the work begins.”
That work involves uniting the country and energizing the government and the people to address the pressing problems facing the nation.
“The sun will be coming up over a climate that is just a few years away from the point of no return.” Buttigieg said he has a plan to make America carbon-neutral by 2050.
Also, “The sun will be coming up over a country where kids are learning active-shooter drills before they are old enough to learn how to read.” Buttigieg favors creating a system of thorough background checks, instituting red-flag laws and banning military-style weapons.
The candidate said he also wants to “lift up democracy” in America with “a 21st century voting rights act,” eliminating gerrymandering and provide “real political representation” for citizens in Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico.
In addition, Buttigieg said he wants to eliminate the Electoral College and “do something about money in politics.”
The audience applauded all these statements, but the last one may have sounded odd to those paying close attention to the 2020 campaign.
On Sunday, Buttigieg — who has reportedly emerged as a favorite among big donors working in financial services, investing and high-tech — was still refusing to allow any media access to his fundraisers, as other Democratic presidential candidates have.
Two days before his Coralville rally, during his appearance at the “Local America Presidential Forum” in Waterloo, Buttigieg was questioned by reporters — as he had been for months — about his refusal to open his fundraisers.
He told reporters, as he had before, that he was considering allowing the media to cover his fundraisers, but said he didn’t have a timeline for coming to a decision.
“There are a lot of considerations, and I’m thinking about it,” Buttigieg said as one of his campaign staff called out, “Last question.”
A reporter asked, “Can you give us an example of those considerations?”
“No,” Buttigieg replied, then walked off.
By Tuesday, that had changed. For the first time, Buttigieg allowed reporters into a fundraiser.
As might be expected, Buttigieg didn’t mention his preference for closed-door fundraising in Coralville on Sunday. His only reference to how he’s been running his campaign came near the end of his prepared remarks.
“I want our campaign to show, not tell, the kind of White House that I’m proposing to establish,” Buttigieg said.