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With Success In Iowa, Buttigieg Is Drawing Attention In N.H., Especially From Veterans03:41
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Presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg speaks to a room full of veterans at the Merrimack American Legion Post 98 in Merrimack, N.H. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg speaks to a room full of veterans at the Merrimack American Legion Post 98 in Merrimack, N.H. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Fresh off his surprise performance in Iowa, Pete Buttigieg is attracting interest from New Hampshire voters.

Though The Associated Press says it's still too close to call and the Democratic National Committee has asked the Iowa Democratic Party to recanvass votes, Buttigieg appears tied for the lead with Sen. Bernie Sanders in the state's caucuses.

More than 200 people packed into American Legion Hall in Merrimack, N.H. Thursday to see Buttigieg speak, an example of the enthusiastic interest he's generating in the first-in-the-nation primary state.

People started lining up outside more than an hour before the event. They parked their vehicles at the nearby high school and slogged through the snow, dodging traffic on a street with no sidewalks to get to the small American Legion hall.

The hall quickly filled up with people who say they are drawn to centrist candidates: Joe Biden, Amy Klobuchar, Buttigieg.

Supporters jammed the tiny Merrimack American Legion Post 98 to hear presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg speak. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Supporters jammed the tiny Merrimack American Legion Post 98 to hear presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg speak. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Don O’Day, who drove up from Connecticut, grabbed a front-row seat. He’s trying to decide among those three. He likes Biden’s compassion, the fact that Klobuchar is a woman and Buttigieg caught his attention when he challenged Vice President Mike Pence’s opposition to gay marriage last year. Buttigieg is gay and married.

"When he said in an early town hall about Mike Pence: 'Your problem, sir, is not with me, but with my Creator,' I thought that was terrific," O'Day said.

O’Day told Buttigieg he hopes he can deliver equally memorable lines in a debate against President Trump. Buttigieg replied that he looked forward to contrasting himself with Trump.

"I think that if he wants to cloak himself in religion, he should stand next to somebody who’s willing to hold him to account for that, and talk about why just like our flag, God does not belong to a political party in this country," O'Day said. "And I think he ought to have to stand next to somebody who served … served this nation."

Buttigieg served in the Navy Reserve and was deployed to Afghanistan. On Thursday, the audience included many veterans and relatives of veterans.

Jana Elsayed said her brother served in the Marines in Fallujah, which saw some of the heaviest fighting in Iraq. Elsayed, of Hudson, New Hampshire, said she’s still trying to decide on a candidate, but she’s enthusiastic about Buttigieg.

"He seems like he really understands what we need, and the fact that he was in the military — I have a military background, so I think that’s kind of important, and he knows how it feels to be in the military," she said.

There is a receptive audience in New Hampshire for veterans' issues: 10% of the state’s voting-age population are veterans, one of the highest concentrations in the country.

Buttigieg speaks to an audience that includes many veterans at an American Legion hall in Merrimack. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Buttigieg speaks to an audience that includes many veterans at an American Legion hall in Merrimack. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

To reach those voters, Buttigieg highlighted that, along with Tulsi Gabbard, he is one of only two veterans running for president.

"Because the people who put on the uniform of this country will do whatever is required and expected of them by the United States of America," Buttigieg said. "That is why they deserve, both during and after their time of service, the support, the respect, and the care of a commander-in-chief who knows what it means to hold a set of orders in your hand — and will never let our veterans down."

Among several proposals, Buttigieg told the audience that if elected, he would stop deporting undocumented people who serve in the military, allow transgender people to serve and smooth the transition of medical care for people leaving the military.

This segment aired on February 7, 2020.

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Fred Thys Twitter Reporter
Fred Thys reports on politics and higher education for WBUR.

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