Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg made a campaign stop in South Florida on Monday, meeting with local students and holding a fundraiser in Wynwood where he discussed several national issues affecting the region.
During a nearly 20-minute speech in front of more than 70 people, the 37-year-old mayor of South Bend, Indiana, said his candidacy marks an opportunity to “change the channel” in Washington and make politics more accountable.
“I’m not the prototypical candidate,” he said. “Maybe we need a mayor instead of somebody who’s been marinating in Washington for a long time. Maybe we ought to get Washington to look more like our well-run cities and towns before it goes the other way around.”
Buttigieg rolled through several issues that affect South Florida, including healthcare, sea level rise and immigration. He announced his support for expanding voting rights to felons who have finished serving their sentences—which a majority of Florida voters supported in the 2018 referendum.
After his speech, Buttigieg told reporters that he will appeal to South Florida voters if they believe he will bring people together.
“This is one of the most remarkably diverse places in the country,” said Buttigieg, who also met with local minority entrepreneurs in South Florida earlier on Monday. “And so making sure that we reach out...to people of all ages and all backgrounds is going to be really vital to demonstrating—not just saying, but showing—how we think a better kind of politics that is inclusive and that is unifying can work for the road ahead.”
Joining him at the rally was Tampa-area State Rep. Adam Hattersley and former Democratic State Attorney General candidate Sean Shaw, both of whom have endorsed the mayor. Shaw, who is black, said he “feels good” when he listens to Buttigieg.
“He’s a veteran. He’s a Rhodes Scholar. He’s a successful mayor. He’s a listener. He’s a doer. That’s everything that we don’t have in the White House and that’s everything that we need,” said Shaw who lost the 2018 statewide race for Attorney General.
Shaw’s endorsement comes as Buttigieg has recently tried to attract more black voters and attended campaign events hosted by minority groups. Although he’s surged in national polls and built up coffers that are now deeper than those of most other Democratic rivals, he has struggled to gain traction among black voters.
Questions have arisen about his firing of South Bend’s first black police chief and about frustration among some African Americans that they have not benefited equally from the city’s economic growth. Shaw said Buttigieg could connect with black voters by continuously meeting with them and promising good jobs and fair access to the American Dream.
“This is early in the campaign. He’s gotta appeal to voters of color. He’s gotta go where they are,” Shaw said. “He’s gotta put wheels on a moving car so to speak.”
If elected, Buttigieg would become the youngest president in history and the first openly gay president.
His supporters, including Miriam Gammerman, 20, said they appreciated his honesty and vitality.
“He brings a tone of civility to the political conversation that’s been really ugly lately,” Gammerman said. She added that she also supports him because her father recently came out as openly gay.
“I see how happy [my father] is to see Mayor Pete on stage, and that makes me happy,” she said.
Polls show the mayor in the top five among Democratic candidates, and Buttigieg, who announced his candidacy in April, said he plans to prioritize grassroots campaigning. Still, some supporters questioned whether he will be able to contend against bigger-name Democratic candidates like Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, who are leading in polls.
Tim Crutchfield, who lives in Miami Shores, said he likes Buttigieg but is waiting to fully support him until he knows he can win the election.
“I think [if] more and more people listen to him, it’ll make a make difference,” Crutchfield said. “He’s the one person who’s gotten my adrenaline flowing everytime I hear him.”