Former Democratic presidential candidate and mayor of South Bend, Indiana Pete Buttigieg addressed Georgetown students on March 31 in a virtual Q&A session hosted by the Georgetown Institute of Politics and Public Service. Georgetown University College Democrats and the Georgetown Bipartisan Coalition cosponsored the event.
The event was part of GU Politics’ “Reflections on Running” series, which allows students to converse with former presidential candidates about their experiences running for office. Previous speakers include Carly Fiorina, Martin O’Malley, and Mike Huckabee.
In a conversation with students, Buttigieg emphasized that his unexpected success on the campaign trail was a result of his campaign’s focus on forging connections with voters. “We actually have a process right now which, for all of its flaws, makes it possible for someone to come out of nowhere and make a case,” he said.
“The reason it is not simply handed to the person with the most name recognition is that you have to go backyard by backyard, diner by diner, with crowds that start at 8 or 12 or 20 in order to build the kind of campaign that can eventually have a crowd of 10,000,” Buttigieg added.
While Buttigieg believes many institutional reforms are necessary, such as prioritizing racial diversity in early primary states, he also thinks the current nomination process allows campaigns to build face-to-face connections with voters. “There are ways to have that basic level of human encounter that I think are features of our political system that deserve to be preserved.”
When asked how political polarization impacted his campaign’s efforts to relate to voters, Buttigieg pointed out most people care more about supporting their communities than they do about ideology. He explained that polarization is more of an issue in the national conversation than it is in everyday people’s lives.
Buttigieg also noted the importance of campaigns engaging voters despite political differences, referencing a supporter of President Donald Trump who had come to one of Buttigieg’s rallies to understand his policies.
“The guy asked a question about social security, and it was a sincere question. He wasn’t there to cause trouble; he voted one way the last time around, but he wanted to understand what the options were,” Buttigieg said. “And I saw him again at a later event and found that he had befriended some of the diehard Democrats who had come to see me speak because they were diehard Democrats.”
Touching on his experience of running as the first openly gay Democratic presidential candidate, Buttigieg explained his identity as an asset in his goal of connecting with voters of disparate experiences. “The nature and character of the presidency is, if you do it right, it’s supposed to be universal,” he said.
“Universal doesn’t mean washing away differences of identity. What it means is trying to use your own experience navigating this country through your own eyes and your own story and tap into that as a basis for solidarity and ways to connect your experience to that of others.”
This post was updated to include the cosponsors of the event.