Pitching himself as a fresh face who can defeat President Donald Trump and knit together a divided America, Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg rallied supporters during a campaign swing through the Seattle area over the weekend.
Buttigieg, the South Bend, Indiana, mayor whose unlikely campaign has gained momentum in recent months, held no public events, but spoke at three private fundraisers, including a rally at the Moore Theatre on Saturday evening and events at private homes on Sunday in West Seattle and Mercer Island.
Mixing optimism with a dire assessment of the divisions coursing through American politics, Buttigieg asked an audience on Mercer Island on Sunday afternoon to imagine “the first day that the sun comes up and Donald Trump is no longer president. … I think we’re all ready for that.”
The crowd of 150 or so murmured agreement and some called out “Yeah!” But Buttigieg warned even if Trump loses in 2020, that won’t be the end of the U.S.’ political rifts. “We will be even more polarized than we are now: torn up over politics, exhausted from fighting.”
A Navy veteran, Buttigieg castigated Trump for “cheap nationalism” and “chest-thumping militarism,” including pardons for soldiers in war crime cases.
Although he’s trailing in polls behind some top-tier rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination, Buttigieg argued he’s best positioned to beat Trump and start a process of healing. He compared himself with the last two Democrats to win the White House, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, saying that like them, he’s new to the national political scene, not perceived as a creature of Washington, D.C., and is campaigning on high-minded American values.
“That is what I have to offer. That and a presidency — this is another public-health benefit — a presidency where you can turn on the news and have your blood pressure actually go down,” he said, drawing a round of laughter.
The fundraiser was hosted by Jeremy Lott and Jessica Abramson Lott at their Mercer Island luxury home valued at $18.8 million by the county assessor. Tickets to the event ran from $500 to $2,800, with the high-end donors gaining access to a special meet-and-greet, according to an online invitation.
Jeremy Lott, who is president of an apparel-importing company started by his father, briefly introduced the candidate. Lott recounted his own grief at Trump’s victory in 2016, saying he believed it represented a move away from values including love, science and truth. “Everything our parents had taught us about being a good person and everything we were trying to teach our six children, we realized wouldn’t be represented in the leader of our country,” he said.
Buttigieg’s 10-minute talk omitted the looming impeachment of Trump and was light on policy specifics, focusing chiefly on his values and viability. But he did tout his public-option health-care plan,”Medicare for all who want it” as “in the spirit of American freedom.” While not naming rivals pushing more sweeping Medicare for All plans that would eliminate private health insurance, Buttigieg said his alternative would give people a choice.
“If you’d rather have something else, that’s OK, too. The important thing is to make sure that there is no such thing as an uninsured American,” he said.
Facing criticism over previous fundraisers that had been closed to the media, Buttigieg allowed a single pool reporter to cover each of his Seattle-area events and share information with other media, a common practice for some presidential campaigns, and similar to how former Vice President Joe Biden has handled such events. (Buttigieg’s last fundraising visit to Seattle, in July, included a rally at The Showbox that was open to multiple news outlets.
On Saturday, hundreds attended Buttigieg’s fundraiser at the Moore Theatre in downtown Seattle, where Buttigieg vowed in a 15-minute speech to “galvanize not polarize” American voters.
“Don’t get me wrong. There’s gonna have to be some fighting,” he said, alluding to feisty left-wing rivals Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. “But I’m never gonna let us get to where it feels like the fight is the point.”
Before the doors opened, supporters with “Mayor Pete” pins and voters curious about the 37-year-old candidate from a city smaller than Tacoma formed a line that stretched three-quarters of the way around the block. Tickets to that event cost between $18.35 and $1,000.
Many attendees said they will consider voting for Buttigieg in Washington’s March 10 primary because they like his “centrist” values, because they believe a Democrat like him (or Biden) will have the best chance to unseat President Donald Trump, or for both reasons.
“Personally, I’d love to see some of the more progressive ideas take root,” said Rachel Felbeck, a 58-year-old from Kirkland, referring to policies advocated by candidates such as Warren and Sanders. “But I think they push too many people to the right, in opposition.”
Inside the Moore, Buttigieg argued for scrapping the Electoral College, which has overruled popular votes. He said that an amendment to the Constitution may be necessary to negate the Supreme Court decision known as Citizens United, which has changed how political campaigns can be bankrolled.
Former Seattle City Councilmember Abel Pacheco joined the mayor to pull audience questions out of a fishbowl. Asked about the country’s homelessness crisis, Buttigieg pledged to develop 2 million units to house 7 million Americans. “I don’t need to tell Seattle what we’re up against,” he said.
This report includes information from a press pool account filed by a reporter for KUOW.