Buttigieg’s historic campaign takes second in New Hampshire

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Pete Buttigieg at Nashua New Hampshire Town Hall/Rally
Meet Pete Buttigieg Town Hall/Rally with Q and A at the Nashua Community College in Nashua, NH August 23, 2019. Photo by Chuck Kennedy/PFA)

Bernie Sanders leads in New Hampshire primary

LGBT leaders in New Hampshire were widely divided on who to support in Tuesday’s Democratic presidential primary, but the LGBTQ community could celebrate another history-making performance by openly gay presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg.

Buttigieg, who won the greatest number of state delegates in the February 3 Iowa caucuses, won the same number of delegates (nine) as Sanders in New Hampshire but came in second in terms of votes.

Speaking to a rally crowd in Nashua close to 11 p.m. EDT, Buttigieg thanked the crowd for supporting a “new generation” of leadership. He thanked his grassroots supporters around the country, highlighting first “the woman in Minnesota who donated [to the Buttigieg campaign] in honor of the wife she lost to lung cancer….” Early in his speech, he said, “Thanks to Chasten, the love of my life,” to cheers from the crowd.

“A campaign that some said shouldn’t be here at all showed that we are here to stay,” said Buttigieg.

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders came in first in New Hampshire with 26 percent of the vote. Sanders came out to give his victory speech while Buttigieg was speaking to his rally, prompting C-SPAN and other major networks to cut away from Buttigieg.

On stage just a few feet away from the podium where Sanders spoke was well-known New Hampshire LGBTQ state activist Mo Baxley, who served as Sanders’ deputy political director.

State Rep. Geri Cannon and former State Rep. Jim Splaine endorsed former Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who finished second with 24 percent of the vote.

U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar, who came in third place with 20 percent of the vote, did not have any high profile LGBTQ endorsements in New Hampshire.

State Reps. Ed Butler, Lisa Bunker, and Joyce Weston and former New Hampshire Stonewall Democrats co-chair Gail Morrison backed U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren, who came in fourth, with nine percent of the vote.

Somersworth’s openly gay Mayor Dana Hilliard supported former Vice President Joe Biden, who came in fifth with eight percent of the vote.

And U.S. Rep. Chris Pappas, whose Congressional district frequently flips between Democrats and Republicans, stayed steadfastly neutral, refusing to say, even after the polls closed, who he voted for.

Buttigieg’s second place finish continues his history-making performance as an openly gay candidate and suggests that, so far, voters are more impressed by his intelligence, temperament, military service, and values than they are focused on his sexual orientation.

He also demonstrated during the past week that he could prevail despite numerous attacks by his competitors. After Buttigieg edged out Sanders in securing delegates to the Iowa state convention last week, he became the target of pointed criticism from other candidates.

During the February 7 debate, Biden said Buttigieg has not demonstrated the ability to win a “broad scope of support across the spectrum, including African Americans and Latinos.” The Biden campaign began running an attack ad deriding Buttigieg’s record as South Bend mayor, characterizing it as as installing “decorative lights” and “decorative bricks,” language that some activists thought sounded like a subliminal effort to draw attention to Buttigieg’s being gay.

“It was as homophobic as it gets,” said gay Democratic activist David Mixner, who has endorsed Buttigieg.

The LGBTQ Victory Fund issued a press release condemning the ad, calling it “petty and demeaning.”

“As a former mayor myself,” said Victory Fund President Annise Parker, former mayor of Houston, “I find it insulting that he would belittle the important role mayors play in the everyday lives of their residents…. Biden’s team must be reading some terrible poll numbers for them to release such a desperate ad against a fellow Democrat. It’s time they refocus their fire at Donald Trump.”

Parker applauded Buttigieg’s second place finish in New Hampshire, saying it was a strong answer to questions about Buttigieg’s electability.

“It shatters the notion that an openly gay candidate can win in only the most liberal hotspots,” said Parker, “and underscores Pete’s position as the best candidate to unite Americans in defeating Donald Trump. That the historic nature of his candidacy is relatively subdued is a testament to our progress as a nation. With enormous momentum heading into the upcoming primaries, it is clear America is ready to elect its first openly gay president.”

Former New Hampshire State Rep. Jim Splaine, one of the LGBTQ leaders in securing marriage equality there, waited until primary day to announce his support. In a Facebook post, he noted, “I have seen many candidates, and I have personally met every one of those who has served as President since 1964,” wrote Splaine. “…In Pete Buttigieg, I see the makings of another John F. Kennedy. A candidate who can inspire, unite, and motivate the people of our country to be better than we have been.”

But Splaine, too, noted the importance of Buttigieg’s success to the LGBTQ community specifically, saying “every time Pete Buttigieg does well in an election… a boy or girl thinking that they are all alone now feels that they more belong.”

“And that’s important, especially to me because I felt that way for years during the younger part of my life,” said the 72-year-old Splaine. “Someday, I hope [being gay] just doesn’t matter. But, as we see in many examples around our nation every day in many ways, it still really does matter.”

Buttigieg’s awareness of the impact of his success on young LGBTQ people was apparent this week, too, when he choked up briefly during remarks to a town hall gathering at a middle school in Laconia, New Hampshire, February 4.

It was his fourth of five campaign events of the day. It came the day after the marathon-long caucuses in Iowa the night before. He said his victory in Iowa “validates for a kid somewhere in a community wondering if he belongs, or she belongs, or they belong in their own family—that if you believe in yourself and your country, there’s a lot backing up that belief.”

Buttigieg has repeatedly said he is not trying to be “the gay candidate,” but his campaign is aware that his being gay could have more impact in South Carolina, where about 29 percent of the population is African American. A Buttigieg-commissioned focus group of African Americans in South Carolina last fall suggested they wanted Buttigieg to keep his sexual orientation more low key. And a fivethirtyeight.com analysis of South Carolina polling, published Tuesday, showed Buttigieg in sixth place with only 6.6 percent support. The South Carolina primary is February 29.

The next voting takes place in Nevada, which holds its caucuses on February 22. And the next presidential debate will take place February 19. Buttigieg is one of only five candidates to qualify for that debate, thus far. The Democratic National Committee has modified its qualifying criteria in a way that may allow former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg to participate.

Meanwhile, two Democratic hopeful pulled out of the race Tuesday: businessman Andrew Yang and U.S. Senator Michael Bennet.

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