Mayor Pete Buttigieg Campaigns in Chicago

Democratic presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg’s campaign doesn’t refer to the candidate by his proper name in press releases; he’s merely “Mayor Pete.”

It may be because it’s easy to get tongue-tied pronouncing his last name (a tip staffers have offered: think of it like “boot-edge-edge”). Or because Buttigieg is mayor of South Bend, Indiana, less than 100 miles from Chicago. (Voters will choose his successor in November.)

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Or it may be a way to keep Buttigieg’s outsider status and unorthodox credentials (a millennial, Midwestern mayor from a red state … who also happens to be gay, a Rhodes scholar, Ivy League grad and former naval reservist who served in Afghanistan) front and center as he makes his pitch to voters.

“Yes it is traditional to be marinated in Washington for a few more years before you step up to the presidency,” he said. “We’re actually living in a moment that’s kind of a season for local leadership. It’s a season for local leadership because that’s where things get done. Consider this: Our national government shut down over a policy disagreement. Can you imagine if that happened to a city government? How long would the mayor be able to physically … remain in city limits, after the city stopped delivering water (which you need to live)? It’s unthinkable. Not that our politics aren’t ferocious and intense. I am, after all, addressing a Chicago audience.”

Buttigieg made the remark Wednesday during a sold-out speech at the City Club of Chicago. (Watch the full speech and Q&A with reporters.)

It was a bargain for any Buttigieg fans – prices for the City Club’s lunch forums at  Maggiano’s top out at $50 a person, while Buttigieg was the guest of honor at two fundraisers Thursday evening; one came with a donation price tag of between $500 and $10,000.

The City Club audience rewarded Buttigieg with ample laughter and applause, like when he indirectly spoke about President Donald Trump.

“We need to change the channel from the show that we’ve all been watching. And that’s my response to this presidency. You’ll notice I didn’t talk about it much. It’s not because I don’t think about it rather often. It’s that you don’t even get a presidency like this unless something’s wrong,” he said.

Perhaps the longest, loudest applause came when Buttigieg questioned whether the country has gone “off the rails” with laws like Alabama’s new near-total ban on abortions.

“I don’t think that you are free in this country if your reproductive health can be criminalized,” he said. 

Journalists later questioned Buttigieg further about his abortion policies. He said he believes there’s a real danger that Roe v. Wade could be overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court, as it’s clear the Alabama law is designed as a test. Were he to be elected president, he said he’d have a “hard time” appointing anyone to the court who doesn’t share his views on abortion. But he says the country can’t help having the abortion question play out one appointment at a time; he is interested in some sort of constitutional amendment affirming abortion as a right.

Between his speech and questions from the media and audience alike, Buttigieg’s wide-ranging talk covered everything from climate change (which he called an “imperative” security threat that must be tackled; he suggested the American people would be well-served by uniting behind a project, like tackling global warming) to elections security, escalating tensions with Iran (he said there appears to be the “early makings of a military mobilization” and called on Congress to stop its “abandonment of its own war powers” and get on the record on this issue) and how – as a man – he could serve women better than having a woman in the White House.

“I am who I am,” he said, “but what I will say is that the next president must be the best ever on women’s equality and gender inclusion, especially if the next president is going to turn out to be a man.”

Video: Democratic presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg speaks at the City Club of Chicago.

Follow Amanda Vinicky on Twitter: @AmandaVinicky

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