Pete Buttigieg drew a crowd of hundreds to Keene High School Saturday morning, in his first stop in the Elm City after his official campaign announcement in April.
The South Bend, Ind., mayor and Democratic presidential candidate has generated considerable buzz since an earlier appearance in the region, a February stop in Alstead.
Waiting for the candidate to appear, several voters said they have been impressed by Buttigieg’s poise and message of generational change.
“I think it’s time to let the next generation takeover,” said Don Winchester, 68, of Antrim, a self-described “Bernie guy” and supporter of the Green New Deal who’s still undecided in this contest.
“It’s nice to see a fresh face in politics,” said Isabel Lane, 22, a recent Keene State College grad who wanted to learn more about the mayor’s policy ideas, especially on the opioid crisis and education.
Celia Strickler, 73, a Florida resident who summers in Townsend, Mass., said Buttigieg’s recent appearances on “The Rachel Maddow Show” and at a televised town hall in Claremont impressed her.
“His ability to answer a question thoughtfully, without either being pedantic or dumbing down,” she said. “His grasp of the issues. His ability to say, ‘This is something I need to think about.’ ”
Strickler said she wanted to hear what Buttigieg would prioritize in his first days in office.
After an introduction by N.H. Rep. Donovan Fenton, D-Keene, Buttigieg began with a call to reframe the way politicians discuss core values like freedom and security.
“Of course overbearing government is a big source of unfreedom around the world,” he said. “But we recognize that government is not the only thing that can make you unfree. In fact, one of the reasons we invented government, as a species, is because we need protections from a lot of different things that can make us unfree.”
For example, he said, “health care is freedom. People are free to take risks and start small businesses … if they know that they have the freedom to do so, even if it means walking away from your old job because you wouldn’t have fear that leaving your old job means losing your health care.”
Near the end of his 15-minute stump speech, the two-term mayor of a Midwestern city of about 100,000 acknowledged that he lacks a traditional presidential résumé.
“But that’s kind of the point, is that we gotta do something different,” he said.
For the next half-hour, Buttigieg took questions on topics including health care, climate change and accepting refugees.
Asked whether he supports a single-payer health care system, Buttigieg said he would start by allowing everyone to opt into Medicare or a similar public insurance program.
“What I think is going to happen very quickly is that it will be more competitive and more inclusive and more affordable than any of the corporate options,” he explained. As more and more people buy into the public program, “it will be a very natural glide path to a Medicare for All system.”
As for climate change, Buttigieg stressed the urgency of the problem.
“Sometimes people are arguing as though the timeline were up to us,” he said. “… The timeline is not being set in Congress. It’s being set by the planet.”
He said he would “at least quadruple” funding for research and development on clean energy and carbon sequestration, put a tax on carbon and give the proceeds back to the people, and help fund local efforts to make communities more sustainable.
One questioner mentioned the Obama administration and asked how Buttigieg would overcome “an obstructionist Congress.”
“I think the biggest thing we learned is that there are a lot of people, especially Republicans in Congress, who are there in bad faith,” Buttigieg said. “They’re not prepared to negotiate. You can tell by what happened with the ACA.”
Buttigieg described the 2010 Affordable Care Act as a relatively conservative policy that Republican politicians opposed because it came from a Democratic president.
“So what are we gonna do going forward?” he asked. “Well, first of all, it would help if we keep winning seats in the House and in the Senate.” Democrats must also “remind Americans about the issues at stake” so they can pressure their members of Congress. Having a presidential candidate with broad appeal in different regions of the country would help that effort, he said.
With hundreds packed into the high school cafeteria — the campaign estimated attendance at 700 — the room grew warm. Halfway through the Q&A, the event was disrupted by a shouts for a doctor, and several people rushed in to help someone on the ground. About a minute later, the person walked out with assistance.
A Keene police officer on scene later said it was one of two apparently heat-related medical incidents at the event.
This article has been updated to correct the fact that Saturday was Buttigieg’s first stop in Keene since his formal campaign announcement.