Making his first appearance in Seattle as a presidential candidate, Democrat Pete Buttigieg vowed to “break the spell” of the Trump presidency and usher in a generation of new political leadership.
Taking the stage for a fundraiser at the The Showbox where rock and pop acts usually headline, Buttigieg was greeted by chants of “Pete! Pete! Pete!” and shouts of “We love you” by a crowd of more than 1,000 supporters who paid between $25 and $500 to get in.
“I’m going to have to come here more often,” Buttigieg said.
The Mayor of South Bend, Indiana, who has leapt to political stardom at the age of 37, Buttigieg spoke and answered audience questions for about a half-hour, and swapped compliments with an adoring crowd.
He pitched his candidacy as a forward-looking movement that would not merely seek to return to the politics that preceded the election of President Donald Trump.
“What’s not going to work is promising a return to ‘normal,’ ” he said, sounding a contrast with candidates like former Vice President Joe Biden. “We only got here because something was very wrong with normal.”
Buttigieg said no political movement ought to be grounded in the word “again,” a reference to Trump’s Make America Great Again slogan. “There is only the future and our determination to make sure the future is better than the past,” he said.
Buttigieg said Democrats must reclaim words like freedom and security as their own, and not cede them to Republicans or conservatives. He said freedom should be redefined to include the right to universal health care, education and abortion, vowing to appoint judges who agree the landmark Roe vs. Wade decision is settled law.
He also said freedom extends to choosing who to marry, and not letting “some county clerk decide for you,” introducing his husband, Chasten, who drew his own raucous cheers from the crowd. “He’s pretty great, isn’t he,” Buttigieg said.
A Navy veteran, Buttigieg took sharp aim at Trump’s recent racist attacks on four Democratic members of Congress who are women of color, saying the flag patch he’d worn on his uniform “stood for the idea that you can criticize your leaders without anybody telling you to go back to where you came from.”
Speaking out against flaws in your country, he said, “is how you demonstrate your loyalty to the republic for which it stands.” The lines drew some of the biggest cheers of the afternoon.
While his speech was light on policy specifics, Buttigieg did answer a few selected audience questions.
In response to one, he pledged to advance transgender rights by passing an anti-discrimination law and to ensure that his administration reflected the diversity of the country.
Asked about the threat of climate change — the signature issue of Gov. Jay Inslee, who is also running for president — Buttigieg said the U.S. must enact a carbon tax to encourage a clean energy shift, while rebating the money raised back to taxpayers.
A crowd of 1,000 lined up more than an hour before the event, across the street from Pike Place Market. Some said they’ve been attracted to Buttigieg as an inspirational candidate who can unite the country, with some comparing him to Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign.
Jennifer Merritt, of West Seattle, said she’s been a supporter since seeing Buttigieg speak at a Seattle book-tour appearance in February.
“For me, every time I hear him speak, I feel hope,” she said.
Douglas Cole, Merritt’s partner, said Buttigieg “seems like a president we can feel good about again and not be embarrassed by.”
Buttigieg also was scheduled to attend a fundraiser at the Seattle home of Lisa Mennet and Paul Joseph Brown, with tickets costing a minimum of $1,000. The events will add to Buttigieg’s already impressive fundraising haul of more than $32 million through the end of June, with $113,000 coming from Washington state.
The Seattle visit was part of a frenetic travel schedule for Buttigieg this week. He was scheduled to fly to Detroit for an NAACP presidential forum on Wednesday, then head to Los Angeles on Thursday and Indiana on Friday.