Editor’s note: UNC teaching professor Jonathan Weiler, an INDY Voices columnist, headed to the soon-to-be-frozen tundra of Iowa this weekend to be the INDY’s official Iowa Caucuses Correspondent™. His fifth dispatch features Mayor Pete Buttigieg.  

Former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg spoke Sunday afternoon at Lincoln High School, home of the Fightin’ Railsplitters (OK, I made up the “Fightin’” part). A full gym and festive crowd greeted him. Though the event kicked off about a half-hour late, once underway, it was a much tighter affair than either the Sanders or Biden event.

Buttigieg has notably struggled to attract black voters, so it’s perhaps not surprising that the two surrogates who led off were African American: Maryland Representative Anthony Brown and Quentin Hart, mayor of Waterloo and considered a rising star in Democratic politics. They spoke for maybe 15 minutes total before the main attraction.

Once Mayor Pete got up on stage, his blinding articulacy was on full display.

Buttigieg speaks fluidly on seemingly every topic, never appearing to miss a word or have to pause to gather his thoughts. He presents himself, in part, as an ideologically palatable alternative to the more sweeping designs of folks like Bernie. At the same time, he speaks in a lyrical language that promises a kind of moral and imaginative transformation of America, one that takes note of the importance of faith but also assures his audience that God does not belong to a political party. 

Buttigieg emphasizes the importance of finding commonality, to reach across party lines. He argued that we don’t need to choose between “revolution and the status quo” (a clear reference to Sanders and Biden). Buttigieg also noted how far he’s come in just a few short months, from a virtual unknown on the national stage to a top-tier contender. He told a funny story about how, early in his campaign, an attendee approached him after an event to tell him she liked what he had to say and that he was now in her “top seven.”

Buttigieg also led the crowd through a brief flight of fancy when he asked, “How good will it feel when the sun comes up over Iowa and Donald Trump is no longer president of the United States?” (I’m not going to lie. That will feel pretty damn good).

When pivoting more concretely to what he would actually do as president, Buttigieg’s preferred outcomes are pretty far-reaching. He wants a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. He wants every American to have high-quality health insurance (even if he doesn’t support Medicare for All). He promises a major investment in long-term care, including a cash benefit for Americans to help pay for it. He calls for a carbon-neutral economy by mid-century.

Like Andrew Yang, Mayor Pete left time for questions, which were read from a question bucket by a staffer. None were hard—they essentially all asked Buttigieg to expand on existing positions. Buttigieg has been criticized for lacking emotion. But the back and forth with the audience allowed him to show an ability to connect with people.

The final question asked his favorite Beatles song. He said it was a hard question because there are so many good ones, but given the moment, he’d have to say “Come Together.” The answer, and his larger sensibility, gives the impression that Mayor Pete is a millennial in boomer clothing.

It’s an interesting appeal.

Comment on this story at backtalk@indyweek.com. 

Dispatches from Iowa was made possible by contributions to the INDY Press Club. Join today at KeepItINDY.com