Presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg visited Palo Alto on Friday at what he called a "pivotal" moment in his campaign, coming off strong performances in the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary and with the Democratic field continuing to narrow.
Buttigieg spoke to about 200 supporters in a standing room only crowd at the University Club about many of the issues he's made central to his campaign, from the contrasts between him and President Donald Trump to his policy proposals on climate change, health care and voting rights. He pitched himself as an inclusive candidate and U.S. Navy veteran who wants to tackle gun reform, restructure the Supreme Court and create a health care plan that is accessible to all but not "forced" on anybody.
"This is not a moment to be leaning on the familiar playbook when we're dealing with the most disruptive president in modern times," said the 38-year-old former South Bend, Indiana mayor. "I also think we can do better than further divide a divided country. A vision that says the only options are to either be for the revolution or you must be for the status quo leaves most of us out."
Buttigieg spoke for about 30 minutes, including time for taking questions from attendees, who paid from $54 to $2,800 for tickets.
One woman brought a question from her African American in-laws, who she said live in Palo Alto and had supported Cory Booker but are now leaning toward voting for former Vice President Joe Biden.
"Alright, big opportunity," Buttigieg said, leaning in to hear the question.
They asked him to give concrete examples of what Buttigieg did as mayor to help the black community in his city and what he will do as president to improve the lives of their biracial grandchildren.
Buttigieg said he worked to invest in neglected black neighborhoods in South Bend that had been devastated economically by directing funding to save or remove dilapidated homes. He said he created an incubator for minority-owned businesses and saw unemployment, especially among black residents, fall as a result.
His local approach has "informed my idea of what we have to do nationally." He pointed to his Douglass plan, named for famed abolitionist Frederick Douglass, which proposes reforms related to criminal justice, economic opportunity, health care and education, from increasing federal Title I funding for low-income schools to eliminating incarceration for drug possession and mandatory minimums.
He's also proposed a "21st century" Voting Rights Act to make voting more accessible, particularly for African Americans.
"Behind it all is a need for — and this is my personal commitment because I've seen in a state like mine that's gone out of its way to make it harder to vote, with disproportionate disempowerment of black voters — the importance of a 21st century Voting Rights Act so that voter suppression cannot stand," Buttigieg said.
In other remarks, Buttigieg described his plan to grow paid service opportunities for high school and college students and to depoliticize the Supreme Court by creating 15 justices, with five chosen unanimously by the other 10.
He mentioned climate change several times in his talk with donors. In response to an audience question about nuclear power, he said that the "biggest environmental threat we face is carbon" and that, while he has some concerns, "nuclear power, which is carbon free, belongs in the power portfolio. That said, advancing toward adding to our nuclear generation capacity is less attractive than developing new carbon-free sources."
Another audience member, a man who said he immigrated to the United States from Pakistan more than 30 years ago, asked how Buttigieg would address what he described as the damage Trump has done to American foreign policy.
Buttigieg responded that Trump's "'America first' approach ... really amounts to 'America alone' at a time we can least afford to be alone.
"The world needs the U.S. right now more than ever but it can't be any America. It's gotta be America at our best. It's gotta be an America that is authentically leading on issues of freedom and self-determination, human rights and democracy and climate — issues that are understood around the world to matter, even by people whose governments are sometimes hostile to us," Buttigieg said. "It doesn't work if our own president is echoing the vocabulary of dictators."
The former Indiana mayor frequently blasted Trump — and repeated his stump speech adage of asking the crowd to visualize the sun rising on Nov. 4 with Trump out of the White House. But he told the room that "this is about more than just decisively defeating Donald Trump.
"This is about making sure," he said, "that the voices of those who aren't sure whether they're even being heard right now in the halls of power where decisions are made are actually represented."
Buttigieg is among eight candidates still competing for the Democratic nomination (20 have dropped out). He urged all of them to embrace whoever is ultimately nominated.
"Some will not agree with us on 100% of everything. That's OK," he said. "But what we've gotta do ... is define ourselves not by who we push out but who we can bring to our side."
With less than three weeks until the California primary, Buttigieg made campaign stops in San Francisco (where he faced protests from queer activists who criticized the openly gay candidate for not fully representing LGBTQ+ experiences, according to media reports) and Palo Alto before heading to Sacramento for a scheduled town hall meeting on Friday. He last visited Palo Alto in December.
Editor's note: This article incorrectly stated the military branch where Buttigieg served. Palo Alto Online regrets the error.