Democratic Presidential Candidate Pete Buttigieg Pushes Ahead To Super Tuesday, Talks About Coronavirus, Guns And More

Pete Buttigieg Rally
Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Democratic presidential candidate and former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg speaks to supporters Saturday night, Feb. 22, in Aurora.

Update: This interview occurred hours before Pete Buttigieg announced his decision to drop out of the 2020 presidential race. Our original story continues below:

The former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg is looking forward to this week as 14 states, including Colorado, hold primaries for the Democratic nomination.

That’s despite coming up with zero delegates in the South Carolina primary.

“There’s no denying the formidable finish that Vice President Biden had,” Buttigieg told CPR’s Colorado Matters Sunday.

Joe Biden got nearly half of the vote there and Sen. Bernie Sanders came in second.

Buttigieg, who was in a distant fourth place with 8 percent of the vote, said Biden’s tremendous support from the black community and the level of trust they have in the former vice president was a huge advantage. But that doesn’t stop his campaign from pressing ahead. 

 “What we also have is an insistence on the power of outreach and wanting to continue connecting with all humility. Whether it's black voters in the South, Latino voters in Texas and in the West, or anyone else who rightfully developed a lot of skepticism about newcomers,” Buttigieg said.

He said he was encouraged by his recent visit to Colorado -- and hopes that will translate to being awarded delegates here.

“We went to Colorado on the day of the Nevada caucuses as the results were coming in, and we're just thrilled with the turnout of thousands and the level of energy that we saw there,” he said. “Colorado is a state that I think looks to the future and connects with our style of campaigning as well as our policy ideas on issues from housing affordability to protecting public lands.” 

The day after South Carolina’s primary, the number of U.S. cases of coronavirus grew with reports of the first infections in Illinois and Rhode Island. And one person in Washington State died of the virus over the weekend.

Buttigieg said in serious and escalating situations like this, the nation needs a president who puts politics aside and listens to science -- and also understands the larger implications of a potential pandemic. 

“I was disturbed to hear the word ‘hoax’ used to describe what is clearly a present threat, not only medically, but economically to our future here in this country,” Buttigieg said. 

He said that very specific steps need to be taken to secure resources for screening and treatment. But that the U.S. also needs to be coordinating internationally as the virus spreads. 

“The virus doesn't care what country it's in. It doesn't respect borders and it's certainly not going to be stopped by a big wall,” he said. “And what we need right now are the very relationships that have become more tenuous and more fragmented under this president.” 

He also said that a lack of a social safety net — like people without sick days or those who don’t have access to affordable child care — could speed up the transmission of the virus. 

“Our economy is set up in a way that, for many people, they're living paycheck to paycheck and don't have a lot of resources to rely on in the event of an emergency or a disruption. This is a disruption,” Buttigieg said. 

Buttigieg also talked about the military service he brings to the race and his thoughts on gun policies, especially in a state that has experienced high profile acts of gun violence. 

“When you train on weapons of war, I think you get a very specific understanding about the harms that they can bring. And I would say that nothing remotely resembling the weapon that I had carried in Afghanistan has any business being sold for profit anywhere near an American school or movie theater or a church,” he said. 

He said that 90 percent of Americans, including the majority of gun owners and Republicans, agree to things like universal background checks, but it still hasn't happened. 

“This is a question not just about gun policy, but about the nature of our democracy,” he said. 

He said that situations like the stall on gun policies will continue to happen without real democratic reforms — like campaign finance reform and the fair drawing of districts.

When Buttigieg was in Aurora recently, a one particular moment captured his crowd: A question from 9-year-old Zachary Ro of Lonetree, who asked for Buttigieg’s help in telling the world he was gay. 

“Love is love!” people cheered as Ro took the stage, and Buttigieg offered him his advice. 

But is a moment like that just one for the cameras? The candidate said it depends on the person.

“We look forward to continuing to hear from the young man who spoke up that night and continue to just be lifted up by the stories of different people of all generations who we encounter on the trail, whether it's those who have been impacted by the nature of this campaign and what it has meant for LGBTQ Americans or those who've connected with our story in some other way,” Buttigieg said. 

In the end, he said his campaign is built on a different message. 

“What I'm offering is not just meaningful, bold, progressive policies, but a different approach to politics, a different approach to campaigning, something that can turn the page on the tone and the toxicity that we're experiencing right now,” he said.

Coloradans get to decide whether to back Buttigieg — or another presidential candidate — Tuesday.