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More than 4,500 gather for Pete Buttigieg town hall

FILE: Democratic presidential candidate former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg speaks to an audience during a campaign rally, Sunday, Feb. 9, 2020, in Dover, N.H. Buttigieg hosted a town hall meeting in Salt Lake City, Utah, Feb. 17 where more than 4,500 people showed up. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — More than 4,500 Utahns gathered at the Union Event Center for the town hall meeting of Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg. The presidential hopeful encouraged the crowd to — regardless of party — unite to “get the job done.”

Buttigieg joined the crowd, thanking those who came out to support — Democrats and Republicans alike. Or, who he calls “future former Republicans.”

“This is proof that no state is a permanent red state,” Buttigieg said to the crowd.

Utah typically doesn’t see many presidential candidates, as its primaries and caucuses are often later than other states’. This year, the primary was moved to Super Tuesday on March 3, which has attracted more attention to the state.

Buttigieg attracts large crowd

The line wrapped around the building leading up to the event. The event began at 8:30 p.m. — but by 6:30 p.m., there were already 2,000 people lined up outside waiting for the doors to open at 7 p.m.

The campaign group said they changed venues of the town hall just days before the event because of the high RSVP count.

Volunteers say the grassroots campaign has grown tremendously since it launched March 2019. The campaign reports having 2,000 volunteers in Utah alone, who they say texted or called every supporter who RSVP’d to the event.

Tracey Dean, a member of the crowd, said she wasn’t sure if she wanted to vote for Buttigieg before the attending the town hall. However, after hearing him speak she said she has made up her mind.

“I think the fact that  he’s young is what is helping me,” she said. “He isn’t a career politician. He really knows what we need as a nation, and he doesn’t see diversity as something that is negative.”

Pat Norris, another member of the crowd, had similar feelings, pointing to challenges Buttigieg has dealt with as reasons why she would vote for him.

“He’s experienced a lot of challenges within that whole spectrum of biases and bigotry,” Norris said. “He’s bright and he’s a veteran. He has, in young years, has the experience. Yeah, he’s made some mistakes but haven’t we all?”

Norris said she still wasn’t sure who she would vote for, but she said she would vote for any Democratic candidate.

Mayor experience will help as president, Buttigieg tells crowd

Buttigieg thanked all the mayoral endorsements he has received in the past few days, noting that his experience as mayor will be beneficial as president.

“So when people say to me, ‘What makes you think a mayor can run for president? You’re just a mayor, you’re not a senator, you haven’t been marinating in Washington for years or for decades,'” he said. “I always say, ‘That’s the point.'”

Buttigieg says his experience in several areas of life will help him support and represent the American people. He pointed to his faith, veteran status and membership of the middle class as examples.

Buttigieg then addressed the crowd in a Q&A town hall style, saying it’s his favorite format for these events. He said it’s how they started the campaign and how they want to keep it going.

He said he wanted to change the idea of the purpose of presidency, noting it’s not for the “glorification” of the president.

“The purpose is the unification and empowerment of American people to get things done,” he said.

Points to urgency of change

Buttigieg carried a sense of urgency throughout the event. This is the “only chance,” he said, to put “the corruption behind us.”

He then pointed to the Senate impeachment trial as an example.

“The Senate may have been the jury then, but the verdict is up to us now,” he said.

Buttigieg pointed to the work that lies ahead of Americans that will be required to make change. He said being elected into office doesn’t end the battle — the work begins on day one.

“Think about it,” he said. “On that day, this country is going to be facing challenges we barely thought of just a few years ago […] We need to look to the future in order to govern in a time like that.”

He pointed to problems in the economy, international affairs, health epidemics, etc. that weren’t predicted to be issues years ago.

“Yes, these issues are tough issues for us to face as a country,” he said. “But we can do it if we’re ready to do it together. And I believe the power of the presidency is suited to the urgency of that moment.”

Buttigieg gains another Utah endorsement

Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall introduced Buttigieg to the stage, moments after she surprised the candidate by officially endorsing him for the presidential nomination. Mendenhall said Buttigieg’s experience as mayor is what convinces her that he is the president that is best fit to beat President Donald Trump.

“I think every Democrat in the city is here — and 10% of the Republicans,” she joked to the crowd.

She said this mayoral knowledge helps Buttigieg to know Salt Lake City, Utah; South Bend, Indiana; and the rest of the country.

This makes Mendenhall the fourth endorsement in the last few days, following Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill, former Salt Lake City mayor Ted Wilson and Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson.