PORTLAND, Maine — Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, endorsed a Democratic U.S. Senate candidate and sold his presidential candidacy in Maine on Thursday with a message of returning to “American values” — freedom, safety and security.
“We can unite around these values once we realize they’re not the political property of one side of the aisle or the other,” he said.
The visit from Buttigieg capped the first real flurry of presidential campaign activity in Maine ahead of the 2020, following a press event from former Gov. Paul LePage and other Republicans for President Donald Trump, a Republican, and a town hall event from a top surrogate of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, another Democratic hopeful.
For Buttigieg, the event at the State Theatre in Portland was part of a national “grassroots” tour. He was introduced by State Treasurer Henry Beck, one of only a few Democratic politicians from Maine to endorse a candidate, and encouraged the crowd to support House Speaker Sara Gideon, a Democrat, in her Senate campaign against Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins.
Then, he launched into a stump speech and took audience questions. Buttigieg has painted himself as the only candidate who can bring new leadership, saying it’s “not enough to just go back to normal” by replacing the president because “normal hasn’t been working.”
He took jabs some at the Trump while discussing national security, including the president’s long-desired wall across the U.S.-Mexico border.
“We’re not going to be able to stay on top of those threats if we rely on 17th-century security, like putting up a wall, in the 21st century,” he said.
Buttigieg is polling fifth in the field overall, according to RealClearPolitics. The national polling leader is former Vice President Joe Biden and Sanders is in second place in the 23-person Democratic field in 2020. Sanders was the runner-up for the Democratic nomination in 2016, when he easily won the party-run caucuses in Maine.
Supporters in Buttigieg’s older, mostly while crowd said they were attracted to the candidate for his youth and energy. At 37, he is the youngest candidate in the field.
“We need fresh, new invigorating ideas, which isn’t Joe, even though I loved Joe,” said Karen McKinney of Portland, who said she didn’t know which Democratic candidate she’s supporting yet. “So it’s like, who has the freshest breath?”
Just down the street earlier Thursday afternoon, an estimated 150 to 200 people gathered at the Mechanics Hall to see former Ohio state Sen. Nina Turner, a co-chair of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders 2020 presidential campaign.
“Honestly what stands out to me is his integrity, his domestic policy, health care for all,” said Javier Carrion, an auto worker from Portland who said he supports Sanders. “He seems like a man of the people more than anything else.”
The day also featured Republicans gearing up to support Trump in Maine with an economic roundtable led by prominent state Republican figures, including LePage, former U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin and businessman Shawn Moody, the 2018 Republican nominee for governor.
The press-only event was held at the Moody’s Collision Center in Gorham and featured two business owners, including David Jones, the owner of F.O. Bailey Company, a Falmouth real estate business. He argued that the president’s tax cuts and economic policies allowed him to invest in companies and employees.
“Here’s a man who is getting government out of the way, saying ‘OK, entrepreneurs, you’ve got free rein to make jobs, to make money, to take care of your family,’ and now we’ve got people who are pulling back on it,” Jones said. “I don’t understand the negativism, I don’t understand the division.”
BDN writer Nick Schroeder contributed to this report.