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Pete Buttigieg’s first stop in Pa. draws 1,000 people to Reading Terminal Market

Trump won Pennsylvania, Buttigieg said, because of voters who were so frustrated “they were willing to vote for anyone just to bring the house down"

Democratic presidential candidate Mayor Pete Buttigieg leaves the stage after making his first trip to Philadelphia for a grassroots rally next to Reading Terminal Market.
Democratic presidential candidate Mayor Pete Buttigieg leaves the stage after making his first trip to Philadelphia for a grassroots rally next to Reading Terminal Market.Read moreTOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer

Mayor Pete Buttigieg has a signature promise he makes in stump speeches around the country — a contribution he says he’ll make to American public health.

“When I’m in the White House and you turn on the news," the 37-year-old mayor of South Bend, Ind. says, “your blood pressure will go down instead of through the roof.”

The line elicited loud cheers and likely some blood pressure spikes from about 1,000 people who gathered to hear him speak outside of Reading Terminal Market on a rainy Sunday evening in Philadelphia.

Buttigieg’s first campaign stop in Pennsylvania followed a strong debate performance last week and an impressive fund-raising haul: He’s raised the third most of any Democrat at $51 million, including $19 million in the last quarter. A few hours before the rally, Buttigieg held a $2,800 per-ticket fund-raiser at the Center City home of Eduardo Ardilles, founder of an interior design firm, and Joseph Ujobai, an executive at an investment firm. Co-hosts for the event included U. S. Rep. Chrissy Houlahan, who has not endorsed Buttigieg, former U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, who has endorsed him, and State Rep. Brian Sims.

Buttigieg has been running in fourth in most national polls. On Monday an Iowa poll showed him surging to third place there with 13 percent, behind Warren with 17 percent and Biden with 18 percent. He has struggled to poll well with African American voters, though and last month hired a black outreach director.

A more moderate Democrat in the crowd of candidates, he stresses the need to appeal to Trump voters.

“You can’t love our country if you hate half the people who are in it," he said.

Trump won Pennsylvania in 2016, he said, because of voters who were so frustrated that “they were willing to vote for anyone just to bring the house down ... now the house is on fire and we’ve got to do something about it.”

Buttigieg gave a nod to the Liberty Bell, telling the crowd, “Let the word go out from here in this freedom-loving city that freedom is an American value with progressive implications.” Among them, he said, was the need to deliver better health care: "You’re not free if you don’t have it.”

Buttigieg has pushed a plan that would create a public option but allow people to keep private insurance. At the debate last week, he challenged Warren to explain how she’d pay for her Medicare for All plan, which would abolish private insurance.

Warren said this weekend that she would release financial details.

In his 25-minute speech, Buttigieg, 37, mostly criticized Trump and pitched himself as the young, energetic candidate who could unify the country.

“Every time my party has taken the presidency in the last half-century, it’s been with a candidate who has come from a new generation, who is new to the national scene, who calls America to her highest values and is usually the opposite of whatever we just had," he said. "That’s where I come in.”

He said his experience as a mayor of a town less than one-tenth Philadelphia’s size is good preparation for the Oval Office, combining executive experience and exposure to issues people face. "There’s no job quite like the presidency but when it comes to preparing for the presidency, I think there’s no job quite like being a mayor.”

Stephen Mazzoni, of Mullica Hill, attended the rally with his son, Stephen Jr., 11. “Aside from the obvious, the fact that he’s obviously very intellectually gifted: Harvard scholar, seven languages, an Afghanistan veteran, he’s the right mix of nice and he has the intellectual capital to get the job done," the elder Mazzoni said.

He thinks Buttigieg could surge just before the Feb. 3 Iowa caucuses, as Barack Obama did in 2007.

Patty Shuminski and her husband, Bob, drove down from Doylestown. She’s still considering other candidates but said she found Buttigieg inspiring.

"I’m still learning about some of the others but, to be honest with you, I don’t know if any of the other candidates would have gotten me out here tonight,” she said.