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'The one to watch'

Buttigieg impresses voters, political vets alike

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Jeff Wood can relate to Pete Buttigieg. They are both gay Midwesterners and both married to educators.

On Sunday, Wood opened his westside Lansing home for one of about 400 house parties around to country to view the South Bend, Indiana, mayor’s live-streamed presidential announcement.

Few among the dozen or so who gathered in Wood’s living room knew much about him, but those asked about the event after the fact were impressed. Nobody seemed ready to knock doors for him tomorrow, but they all walked away with a positive impression.

“The way he presents is like Obama,” said former local radio personality and Democratic activist Walt Sorg. “He’s bright. He’s non-threatening. He’s got fire and it’s not couched in language that scares the crap out of you.”

Sorg said Buttigieg has the type of record in South Bend that would be difficult for Trump to attack. Another attendee was concerned if Buttigieg stood the best chance of defeating, presumably, Trump in the 2020 General Election.

Ron Fournier, the former Washington bureau chief of The Associated Press, says Buttigieg — pronounced “boot edge edge” — is “one to watch.”

Speaking on the “MIRS Monday” podcast, Fournier said he first saw “Mayor Pete” years ago give a speech after accepting an award from the Harvard Institute of Politics. He said he remembered turning to fellow board member David Axelrod.

“We both looked at each other and said, ‘This is like Obama,’” Fournier said. That’s high praise from Axelrod, who was Obama’s senior advisor for years.

“He’s one of these rare people who knows how to connect policies with people’s lives, who go through your heart to get to your head,” Fournier said. “Bill Clinton had that knack. Barack Obama had that knack. In his own weird way, Donald Trump has that knack.

“This guy, who is of a different generation, coming from the Midwest, has all the makings of a transformational leader at a time when every election voters are looking for transformation and disruption. It’s why they voted for Barack Obama. It’s why they voted for Donald Trump. And it’s why they could vote for a gay man from South Bend.”

Fournier, now president of the Truscott Rossman public relations firm, said Buttigieg is relatable because his job is to relate to people on a daily basis. He walks into cafés, shakes hands and solves people’s everyday problems.

It’s among the many things that makes him appealing, Fournier said. The 37-year-old, soft-spoken, intellectual, gay millennial mayor from the Midwest is the mirror opposite of the bombastic 72-year-old New York businessman who views politics as a zero-sum game, he said.

An Emerson College poll released Monday showed that in a hypothetical head-to-head, Trump beats Buttigieg 51-to-49%, which is within the poll’s 3.2% margin of error. Joe Biden does the best against Trump, according to the Emerson College pool, with a 53% to 47% lead.

If nothing else, “Mayor Pete” is the hot commodity. The Daily Kos’ flash poll of subscribers this week had Buttigieg at 21 percent behind Bernie Sanders’ 40 percent with 35,425 respondents.

U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., was at 12 percent and U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris was at 9 percent. Biden was in fifth among this mostly progressive universe of folks with 5 percent.

Buttigieg raised $1 million within four hours after he announced his candidacy. He packed an old Studebaker plant with some 4,500 supporters while another 1,500 were turned away at the door, the local fire chief told the media.

Lansing City Councilman Peter Spadafore was within sight of the door when the building reached capacity. He and his husband hopped in line for the South Bend event at 11 a.m. Doors opened at 12:30 p.m.

“It was one of those good news, bad news things,” he said. The good news was Buttigieg drew so well. The bad news was Spadafore had to watch the event on a screen from a nearby brew pub.

(Kyle Melinn of the Capitol newsletter MIRS is at melinnky@gmail.com.)

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