Behind the scenes of Buttigieg’s Iowa rise

Pete Buttigieg speaks at a town hall Nov. 4 in Spencer, Iowa.

Trevor Babcock

Stepping off his campaign bus in Spencer, Iowa, Pete Buttigieg prepared to cap off his final stop on his three day bus tour. 

With more than 500 attendees packed in Spencer’s YMCA gym, Buttigieg entered to Panic! At The Disco’s “High Hopes.” The crowd engaged with his speech, applauding and cheering his talking points.

Buttigieg asked the crowd to imagine the first day the sun comes up after Donald Trump is no longer president, a line met with extended applause. The atmosphere and enthusiastic crowd come alongside his recent surge in the polls. He is now the Iowa frontrunner, leading the RealClearPolitics polling average of likely Democratic caucusgoers by more than five percent over his closest rival, Elizabeth Warren.

“Just like a lot of places where I go across this state, progressives, moderates and an awful lot of Republicans are ready to bring about something different,” Buttigieg said.

On an hour drive from Algona, Iowa to Spencer, Iowa, Buttigieg fielded questions from reporters ranging from policy positions to political strategy to deep dives on personality.

“How has being gay helped you in your career?”

“What are the holidays like with your husband?”

“Have you ever watched a Trump rally from start to finish?”

A common theme in Buttigieg’s answers and speeches throughout his campaign stops is his tendency to tie his answers back to his “values.”

“I’m a policy guy,” Buttigieg said. “But I think a lot of people, actually, when they’re looking at your policies, it’s hard to find out what your values are.”

A part of Buttigieg’s value system is his “rules of the road,” which is a list of principles for his staffers and volunteers for how to treat others and themselves. Among these values are respect, belonging, truth, discipline and joy. 

“I thought it was very important for our team to have values that we could always reach to, not only as a reminder to do the right thing, but also as the things we should invoke when we’re not sure what to do,” Buttigieg said. “I think that’s especially important in a campaign like this. We’re going to show what kind of White House I’ll put together based on the kind of campaign we put together.”

At a town hall at a Veteran of Foreign Wars in Algona, Iowa with more than 300 attendees, Buttigieg explained the answer to solving America’s biggest problems is a president focused on keeping America together. 

“The way we do it is in the name of the values that we share as Americans, values that by design are supposed to make American life [far] more whole and more unified, but these days are being used to divide us.” Buttigieg said.

While this focus on values and union seems to resonate with Iowa caucusgoers, details of his policy don’t always receive an equally warm reception. 

Joy Newcom, an audience member asked Buttigieg at the Algona town hall about how his “Medicare For All Who Want It” plan would prevent private insurance companies from making a profit off of sick people. 

“My plan doesn’t just create this public ‘Medicare For All Who Want It’ option, it also regulates the private plans that are out there,” Buttigieg said. 

Newcom said she believes Buttigieg’s answer was “almost there.” 

“I am nervous about what Republicans can do to government money,” Newcom said. “I would have appreciated a more full throated, ‘they will absolutely not privatize this portion of the plan.'” 

At the end of the final day of the bus tour, which began with a tour of an ethanol plant in Mason City, Iowa and was followed with a quick tour of Britt, Iowa given by the mayor, Buttigieg was asked if he enjoyed being surrounded by people all day long. 

“Like many things that an introvert does, it is an expenditure of energy,” Buttigieg said. “But also, that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable.”