The line of voters outside the community centre began forming two hours before Pete Buttigieg arrived, snaking along the snowbank hugging the main street that goes by the grandiose name of the White Mountain Highway. They stood in the chill of a New Hampshire morning, hundreds of them, some holding placards, others wearing buttons or stickers boosting the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., who has surged ahead of better-known, better-financed and more-experienced rivals into the front ranks of competitors for the Democratic presidential nomination.
The size of the crowd astonished veteran political activists in this ski town just south of the 13 mountain peaks known, aptly, as the Presidential Range. But what was astonishing here in the state that in February holds the first primary of the 2020 political year was less about geography and geology than about demography. This mass of people hungry to deny U.S. President Donald Trump a second term in the White House was primarily composed of senior citizens.
Indeed, older people have emerged as the surprising power base of an insurgent candidate who is two weeks short of his 38th birthday – and who has raised the equally surprising deep enmity of younger people who have resisted his call for “opening a door for a new generation” and, in many cases, have flocked to the presidential candidacy of Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who, at more than twice Mr. Buttigieg’s age, would be 79 years old by Inauguration Day next January.
In a wide-ranging interview later that afternoon with The Globe and Mail and the Conway Daily Sun, the local newspaper in this community, Mr. Buttigieg discussed the perplexing age gap in his support (an echo of the phenomenon he witnessed in his mayoral campaigns); the American attack on Iranian military leader Qassem Soleimani (“taking out a bad guy is not a good idea unless you’re ready for what comes next”); the ascendancy of Mr. Trump (“he does not understand how to bring Americans together’’); and the President’s acidic comments on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and on Canada (“we ought to value the relationship”).
These days Mr. Buttigieg is flying high. He took the lead in late 2019 polling here in New Hampshire and in Iowa, which holds its presidential precinct caucuses Feb. 3 before the Feb. 11 New Hampshire primary. He has 65 field offices in the early political states and for nine consecutive months has raised more money than former vice-president Joe Biden.
But none of that has won the embrace of many young people, especially those who lean left and consider Mr. Buttigieg too moderate, too conventional, perhaps even too old in his comportment and mien to be considered young – the malady that affected former vice-president Albert Gore in his youth, when he was considered an old person’s version of what a young person should be.
This is clearly a point of bewilderment for Mr. Buttigieg, whose gold-plated résumé – perhaps another irritant to younger voters with a distinct disdain for the odours of elitism – includes membership in the exclusive Phi Beta Kappa honour society at Harvard; a Rhodes Scholarship and a coveted “first” in the Oxford Philosophy, Politics and Economics curriculum that produced three prime ministers of both Great Britain and Australia and two of Pakistan; a military deployment in counterterrorism activities in Afghanistan; and tony consulting work for McKinsey & Co., a firm revered in corporate circles but reviled by the sort of progressives who support Mr. Sanders and Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.
Throughout his public appearance at the community centre here, Mr. Buttigieg repeatedly employed words and phrases – “respect” twice, “patriotism” twice, “love of country” twice, “values” three times – with likely appeal to older voters. He spoke of “a generation who served after 9-11 who have something unique to bring.” And, in a clear nod to the voting group he has not yet pierced, noted that “many of the things I’m proposing that we do … would make me the most progressive president in the last half century or so.”
Later, in the interview, he was confronted with this demographic gap.
“One of the things we noted when I first ran for mayor was that older voters were much more likely to say it was positive that I was young,” he said. ‘’For older voters, maybe they have a little less mystique about age and experience and might see the virtue of younger people.”
His public appearance was punctuated with comments about gay marriage (he married Chasten Glezman in 2018), abortion, corporate tax evasion, climate change, health care and strong critique both of establishment Washington and Mr. Trump. “Americans are so disgusted with official Washington,” he said, “that they put in this guy many of them don’t like just to burn the house down.”
His criticism of the President extended to the interview, when he was asked about U.S. relations with Canada.
He said it was one of the era’s “bizarre moments” when Mr. Trump citied “national security” in invoking tariffs on aluminum and steel imports from Canada.
“Canada?” Mr. Buttigieg said. “Really?”
He then cited Canada’s participation in international coalitions with the United States, adding:
“[H]aving worked in Canada for a period of time, I know how much value there is in the relationship that we have. And so whether it’s here in states that border Canada or whether it’s just thinking about our broader global relationships, we really want to make sure that there’s a country that’s part of the Commonwealth and also part of North America at our side – and that’s another example why poking friends in the eye is never going have good results, especially since there’s no cause for it.”
Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.