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Pete Buttigieg rallies Sacramento supporters as presidential contenders flock to California

SACRAMENTO — Presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg swung through Northern California to rally his supporters and raise money at two fundraisers Friday, enjoying his newfound status as a top-tier contender after surprisingly strong performances in Iowa and New Hampshire.

The former South Bend mayor’s trip kicked off a two-and-a-half week sprint to California’s March 3 primary, with several other Democratic White House hopefuls — as well as President Trump himself — campaigning across the state over the next few days.

“So much depends on what happens when the future-oriented, forward-looking, racially diverse, justice-minded state of California has its say,” Buttigieg told several thousand cheering fans at a downtown Sacramento park.

After notching a photo-finish win in Iowa and a close second place in New Hampshire, behind Sen. Bernie Sanders, Buttigieg is hoping that his success in the early states will give him momentum leading up to the Golden State’s primary.

Many attendees said that they were still deciding on which candidate to support and had showed up in part because of Buttigieg’s early strength. And his most diehard supporters were thrilled with his record so far.

“When he first announced, we were like, ‘Pete who?’” said Mark Workman, an Air Force veteran and NASA employee from Mountain View, whose wife Jan carried a homemade Pete sign covered in glitter. “Now we’re totally on board.”

But Buttigieg and the other candidates who are moving on from the first two contests of the primary season will have to prove they can hold their own in the far more diverse states coming up on the calendar — including Nevada, which caucuses on Saturday, South Carolina, which votes on Feb. 29, and Super Tuesday states like California.

Buttigieg’s Sacramento crowd was overwhelmingly white, and he’s struggled to substantially raise his poll numbers among African-American and Latino voters.

A gaggle of other presidential contenders are also headed to California over the next few days, most popping over from campaign trips in neighboring Nevada.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar — who also did well in New Hampshire with a surprise third-place showing — will be in San Francisco for a fundraiser Sunday, although her campaign hasn’t announced any public events.

Sen. Bernie Sanders will headline a rally in Richmond on Monday to promote his campaign’s effort to encourage early voting and organize independent voters.

And President Trump is set to swing through Los Angeles, Riverside County, and Bakersfield for fundraisers and other events on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Trump’s itinerary includes a fundraiser at the Palm Springs-area estate of Oracle chairman Larry Ellison — the most high-profile show of support for the president’s re-election campaign by a major Silicon Valley leader so far. Tickets for the event with the president are going for up to $250,000, according to The Desert Sun, which first reported the fundraiser.

Buttigieg also held two fundraisers Friday at the National LGBTQ Center for the Arts in San Francisco and the University Club in Palo Alto. At the San Francisco event, he was interrupted by three LGBT protesters who objected to him meeting with donors instead of community members — a line of attack that his White House rivals have used in the past.

“I respect your activism, but this is a gathering for supporters of our campaign and I just got a question about my husband and I’m really excited to answer it,” Buttigieg told the protesters, according to a pool report.

On the sidewalk outside the center, protesters calling themselves “Queers Against Pete” shouted back and forth with some Buttigieg supporters.

“He’s not representative of our community,” said Jethro Patalinghug, a gay filmmaker and San Francisco resident who attended the protest, adding that Buttigieg was “using his gay card to propel his campaign.”

At his Sacramento rally, an energetic Buttigieg was introduced by one California supporter, Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis, and asked mostly softball questions by another, West Sacramento Mayor Christopher Cabaldon. Buttigieg pitched himself as a candidate who could unite the party and bring in Republican voters in the general election.

When asked what he was doing to win the support of African-American voters, Buttigieg laid out his policies on issues like supporting minority-owned businesses.

“Sometimes they talk about the black vote like it’s some guy,” Buttigieg said. “Let’s respect that this is not a monolithic community, there are a lot of different experiences that make up the black experience in America.”

He also took a veiled shot at Klobuchar and former San Francisco hedge fund chief Tom Steyer, who were stumped when asked to name Mexico’s president in Telemundo interviews Thursday night. Buttigieg named President Andrés Manuel López Obrador in his own interview with the Spanish-language news channel.

“I thought it was a trick question, and it turned out that not everybody knows about this,” Buttigieg said, calling López Obrador “one of the most important international leaders for the U.S. to be in dialogue with.”

On Valentine’s Day, Buttigieg’s most crowd-pleasing answer was about meeting his husband Chasten. The former mayor told the crowd they had their first date at a time when he “had been actively avoiding love for a very long time, and tiptoed out to see what it would be like.”

“First I saw these eyes, this smile I just had to see in person — so I swiped right,” Buttigieg said. “It’s the most millennial thing I’ve done.”

Many attendees said that they were still making up their minds on which candidate to support but were impressed with what they’d heard.

Tim Busch, a 47-year-old civil engineer, said he had narrowed down his choices to Buttigieg and Klobuchar. He liked Buttigieg because “he’s moderate and normal and not 90.” (Sanders is actually 78, and Biden is 77.)

“I don’t want a dinosaur as the next president,” Busch said.

Rinda Pope, 67, whose son Alexander was killed in Iraq in 2007, said she planned to vote for Buttigieg, a Navy veteran,  because “he chose to defend our country just like my son did.”

“We need someone like that,” she said.

Dylan Bouscher contributed reporting.

Source: East Bay Pete Buttigieg rallies Sacramento supporters as presidential contenders flock to California

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