Former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg asked the large crowd at Washington Liberty High School in Arlington, VA on Sunday how good it would feel to put "the chaos" and "the cruelty" (meaning President Trump) behind us in November. They roared.
Speaking to his supporters on the high school football field, Buttigieg said he's the guy to beat Trump. Because unlike Sen. Bernie Sanders (yes, he named him), he can attract, rather than isolate, new voters.
The mayor says he "respects" Sen. Sanders and the ideals he espouses. He just disagrees with his tactics.
"I believe that the way we will build the movement to defeat Donald Trump is to call people into our tent. Not to call them names online," Buttigieg said, taking a swipe at Bernie and his supporters who as of late have been engaging in some social media bullying.
One of the largest policy differences between Buttigieg and Sanders is health care. The mayor reminded the audience what's at stake if Sanders takes his Medicare for All agenda to the general election. Sanders's policy stands to kick hundreds of millions of people off of their privatized insurance plans. When Buttigieg has raised the issue at the Democratic debates, Sanders has accused him of misleading voters by omitting how premiums will be largely slashed or eliminated under his plan. Still, the former mayor calls it too extreme.
"We want to give people the freedom to walk away from their health insurance care companies toward a public plan," Buttigieg explained. "America will support that. Just so long as we give you the freedom to decide whether you want that public plan in the first place. That's how we build this majority."
"We're going to need a nominee that can bring people together," he added.
Buttigieg, though hardly recognizable a year ago, can certainly turn out a crowd now. I arrived around 2:30 p.m. for the town hall, which had a 3:45 p.m. start time, and the line had already stretched around the entire football field. Those who couldn't get in to the venue stood outside the fence to listen. Others climbed walls.
By and large the supporters I spoke with in line had similar sentiments for Sen. Sanders as Buttigieg did. Between his extreme leftist agenda and his "democratic socialist" label, these moderate voters worry that they'll be doomed come November if the Bernie surge persists.
"He’s too extreme," said Jenn from Clifton, VA. "And in this election we have to go for moderates. We have to go for disaffected Republicans. We have to go for smart, thoughtful decision makers. People that know they don’t know everything. And not a lot of ego. And I think Bernie has a lot of ego."
Buttigieg even worked in a dig at Sen. Sanders at the town hall in a question about what it was like to meet Ellen DeGeneres. He said we need more people like Ellen - people who exude kindness - before slamming his opponent for using below-the-belt tactics to win the nomination.
"Again this is where I view things a little differently than Sen. Sanders," he said. "I don't believe we can allow ourselves to get to the point where it starts to feel like fighting is the point. It gets to where fighting's all we got. The point is not the fight. The point is what lies on the other side of the fight."
"We cannot build by beating each other over the head."
The Virginia Primary is March 3.