Pete Buttigieg says he didn't 'set out to be the gay president'

The former South Bend, Indiana, mayor said Sunday his success in Iowa has been a "really meaningful and really powerful” message.

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By Ben Kamisar

MANCHESTER, N.H. — Former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg said Sunday that while he did not “set out to be the gay president,” his success on the heels of a strong showing in Iowa’s caucuses has helped drive home the historic nature of his candidacy.

Speaking during a special edition of “Meet the Press” from New Hampshire, Buttigieg recounted a brief conversation with his husband, Chasten, that he said helped put his virtual tie in Iowa in perspective.

“There’s not a lot of time for reflection on the campaign. But yeah, there was a moment before we went out when Chasten pulled me in and just reminded me what this means for some kid peeking around the closet door wondering if this country has a place for them,” Buttigieg said.

“I didn’t set out to be the gay president, but certainly seeing what this means is really meaningful and really powerful.”

While the results in Iowa have been marred by reporting concerns, Buttigieg is poised to win a significant share of the state’s delegates to the Democratic National Convention. He’s hoping to become the first openly gay nominee of a major political party, but already stands to make history as the most successful, openly gay presidential candidate pending the final results in Iowa.

He is currently locked in a tight race with Sanders at the top of the polls in New Hampshire. A new NBC News/Marist poll from Friday found the separation between the two candidates within the poll’s margin of error.

Buttigieg has faced questions on the trail as to whether his sexual orientation may make it difficult for him to win over some voters, most recently after a viral video showed a supporter asking for her vote back after she learned that Buttigieg was gay.

When asked about that video, Buttigieg sid he’s “saddened that she sees things that way, but I’m running to be her president too.”

“The reality is prejudice is still out there. And you’ve got to deal with it. But I would not have been able to be re-elected the way I did in Mike Pence’s Indiana if people were not able to look past that,” he said.

“Every time somebody seeks to break a barrier, pundits try to make it about electability.”

While the question of any link between Buttigieg’s sexual orientation and electability has not been a major issue among his fellow Democratic presidential hopefuls, his rivals have been trying to use his mayoral experience to paint him as unelectable.

Former Vice President Joe Biden has been leading the charge, launching a digital ad meant to dismiss his mayoral record as small-potatoes compared to the accomplishments of the former vice president and telling reporters in Manchester when asked about Buttigieg that “this guy is not a Barack Obama.”

And Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar argued on Saturday’s debate stage that while Buttigieg wants to cast himself as a “cool newcomer,” that Trump’s tenure in office shows that “having some experience is a good thing.”

On Sunday, Buttigieg said that while his rivals’ achievements were “important because they met a moment,” that America is now facing “a different moment.”

“It’s certainly the case that people are frustrated by a reality that they feel has left them out for 40 years. We've felt it in my community, an industrial community in the heart of the so-called Rust Belt, that didn’t feel like Washington was hearing what we had to say."