SACRAMENTO, Calif — Democratic Presidential Candidate Pete Buttigieg held a campaign rally in Sacramento Friday evening after mounting a surprise rise toward the top of the race for the Democratic nomination in early states.
The crowd of hundreds who showed up to Cesar Chavez Plaza in downtown Sacramento included die-hard supporters, who broke into chants of "President Pete."
But many of the voters who showed up were undecided, window shopping for the Democratic candidate who'll be best to take on President Donald Trump in the November general election.
The ability to win ranks by far as the leading issue in the Democratic primary race. After his event, Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, granted an interview to ABC10's Brandon Rittiman, where we focused on that top issue for Democratic voters.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
ABC10: How you can scale up from your experience running a small town to running the federal government?
Buttigieg: Everyone should be humbled and daunted by the magnitude of the oval office, and yet while there is no office quite like it, there is no office quite like being mayor. Being responsible for the trajectory of an entire community. I am not afraid to not be the smartest person in the room and surround myself with those who are experts in their field and make sure we deliver according to our values.
I think right now, Americans are looking for an outside perspective. Not quite like Donald Trump, but it is revealing that he got elected, but someone who is no stranger to service.
I am no stranger to elected and military service. I got more executive experience than the Vice President, more government experience than the President and more military experience than anyone who walked in that office since George H.W. Bush.
I know I am the youngest candidate running, but I am prepared to put together an administration that could lead us to into the future.
ABC10: How do you encourage people that you will have a less of a fire approach but also get people excited to show up in November to cast that vote for your name?
Buttigieg: What I am offering is a presidency where you could turn on the news, look at the White House and feel your blood pressure go down a little bit instead up through the roof. And that is what I think most Americans are looking — seeking. There is no going back to the old normal, but we could build a new normal that is characterized by decency and belonging.
ABC10: How do you go up against the mentality of some voters who would vote for anyone who is not Donald Trump?
Buttigieg: It's not just who we are against, it's what we are for. It's about making sure we deliver a future where we are on top of climate change, acting on gun violence, where the economy is where one job is enough, where it is possible to get ahead and feel good about the future.
I am also the best-prepared candidate to beat Donald Trump. I come from the same kind of community that he appealed to in the last election and pulled people across the aisle. I did well in those first two contests in Iowa and New Hampshire in those very same kinds of counties that flipped from Democratic to supporting Trump. We need to bring those counties back.
ABC10: How are you going to be able to work with Congress to get any legislation done functionally?
Buttigieg: The thing to remember is the American people are with us. What we have to do is force Congress to respond to the people. That is going to require democratic reform and is going to need the president to be ready to call members in an account.
We saw it happen with the way the Senate was unable to tear down the Affordable Care Act. When the American people speak up, even in this bad faith GOP Senate can be forced to listen. But it will not happen on its own. It will take presidential leadership and it will take coattails.
ABC10: You said in a speech in Iowa if Democrats remain in the president’s reality show, they are not going to find success. You said you want to change the channel, but how are you going to do that?
Buttigieg: The key is to have the discipline to deny him the ability to change the subject. Of course, we'll confront him when he does something wrong. This election is about Americans' everyday lives, and every vote asks the question of how it is going to be different if you’re president and instead of you. That is my focus.
The less we talk about him, the more we talk about you, as the ones who are trying to get you a raise, trying to get you paid family leave, trying to make sure you afford housing and health. The more we talk about you, the more likely we will win.
ABC10: For Donald Trump, people wanted a radical vote for someone on the right, and there are people on the left who want a radical vote on the left. How do you appeal to voters who are more interested in Sanders at this point where what we need is strong medicine from the left?
Buttigieg: What I'm offering would be the most progressive presidency that we had in the last half-century, but set up in a way that could include more and more people in the effort, instead of beating them over the head. We are not going to be able to unify this country or implement our progressive priorities unless we could include as many people in our vision.
ABC10: Californians could feel very distant from Washington, DC. How do people on the west coast know that they will have your ear in the White House?
Buttigieg: Part of it is showing up. It is why we are here now and will continue to work to earn the support of Californians from all walks of life in the days leading up to the primary.
And part of it is, because I could relate. I am from a very different part of the country, but the one thing we have in common is what was going on in Washington felt so remote to us in our part of the so-called Rust Belt. We took action to make sure the life of our community improved and changed, but we could have used some help in Washington to get it done.
I know why it is so important to bring the voices that were left out to Washington rather than play the game that has been going on out there because what's going on out there has not been working.
ABC10: The president has kind of this nickname of "Teflon Don," kind of like thing does not stick to him. I heard you have a similar quality. How would you keep that up while he is attacking you?
Buttigieg: I don't get too caught up in his attacks. I believe at the end of the day, you got to stay focus, and you got to stay disciplined. I have encountered worse forms of incoming than a tweet full of typos. This president is not going to get to me.
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