DES MOINES --- Pete Buttigieg figured this early in his presidential campaign he still would be helping people learn how to pronounce and spell his last name.
Instead, Buttigieg --- pronounced boot-edge-edge --- is enjoying an early surge, garnering the attention of Democratic voters in Iowa and increased support in polling on the infant primary race.
Buttigieg said he can feel that growing support on the campaign trail, including in Iowa, where he spent the day Tuesday after making his candidacy official this past weekend in South Bend, Indiana, where he has served as mayor since 2012.
Buttigieg on Tuesday participated in a town hall in Fort Dodge and held a campaign rally in Des Moines. The town hall was standing room only, and more than 1,600 attended the rally, which started out as a meet-and-greet with 50 people before interest exploded, organizers said.
Buttigieg was scheduled to make two more appearances on Wednesday.
“To have vaulted into the higher tier as we have is really encouraging,” Buttigieg said during an interview prior to the rally. “But I also know that this is just the beginning. We have a lot of work to do.”
Despite his lack of national profile before entering the race, Buttigieg in recent polls, both nationally and in myriad states, has been placing among the second tier candidates behind polling front-runners Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders. (Biden has not yet announced whether he will run for president.)
In an Iowa poll published last week by Monmouth College, Buttigieg at 9 percentage points trailed only Biden (27) and Sanders (16).
“It’s a long road that’s going to require a lot of quality time, but it’s very encouraging to see how the message has resonated,” Buttigieg said.
One of 19 candidates seeking the Democratic nomination, the 37-year-old Buttigieg is the first millennial and first openly gay presidential candidate from a major political party.
Two men interrupted Buttigieg’s remarks at the rally, yelling, “Remember Sodom and Gomorrah,” a reference to the Biblical passage about two cities that were destroyed by God as punishment for the sexual behavior of the people who lived there.
After the first man was led away by security, Buttigieg said to the crowd, “The good news is the condition of my soul is in the hands of God, but the Iowa caucuses are up to you.”
Buttigieg during the interview said he it is important for Democrats to regain the trust of voters who voted for Republican President Donald Trump after previously voting for Democratic President Barack Obama. Iowa was a hotbed for Obama-Trump voters: it had more counties that flipped than in any other state.
Buttigieg said in Indiana there were not only Obama-Trump voters, but those who voted for both him and then-governor and current GOP vice president Mike Pence.
“There are a lot of voters who generally voted Democratic and we lost them in the last election. I want those voters back,” Buttigieg said. “These voters are not out of reach. But they’re out of reach if we never even try to reach them.”
Republican Party of Iowa chairman Jeff Kaufmann, in a statement, said Buttigieg “will fit right in” with a field of Democratic candidates who, Kafumann alleged, “continues moving further left.”