If there is one thing going in his favor, it’s that he seems to have avoided the trap of being pigeonholed. He is making a virtue of not forcing people to choose between progressive and moderate, between wanting to attack the global threat of climate change and wanting to preserve a strong national defense. And yet at some point, people will have to make choices. And so will the candidate: Buttigieg currently has not alienated Democratic voters by publishing a policy page on his website—a fact several voters at his events in New Hampshire pointed out to me.
In his appeal to New Hampshire voters, almost uniformly white, Buttigieg talked about running the kind of campaign that would unite the country. “Where is it written that a so-called red state, red county, has to be red forever?” Buttigieg asked his audience at the bookstore in Concord. “They didn’t start out Republican, they don’t have to be Republican in the future.”
I’ve talked to Buttigieg about the challenge of being an ambitious Democrat in a red state. I was shadowing him last fall in South Bend before the midterms, when we went for a run along the St. Joseph river, took a driving tour of the city and had beers at Fiddler’s Hearth, the downtown bar where he and Chasten had their first date back in September 2015. “I get the wisdom that says that if you do what you have to do to win Democratic primaries, it makes it more difficult to be a statewide candidate in a conservative state,” he told me then. “But I just think from year to year, things change so quickly. That you don’t want to overthink it. I also don’t think you should ever run for an office you don’t seek to win.” It was clear to me then that he was mulling the pros and cons of a presidential run given that his opportunities in his home state were so limited. After he spoke in New Hampshire, I asked him again during a press gaggle how he thought he could win in red counties and red states, especially given that he told me last year he had no path to win statewide in Indiana.