Pete Buttigieg now rarely goes more than a few days between private events hosted by prominent gay donors. The New York Times
Barely two months ago, when Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Ind., was rating no higher than 1 or 2 percent in national polls, he had a well-worn punch line he used as he pitched himself in living rooms and conference rooms where many of the guests were, like him, young, male and gay.
“I’m not asking for monogamy,” he would say.
It was fine to give money to the bigger names in the race like Senators Kamala Harris and Cory Booker or former Representative Beto O’Rourke. He asked only that they save some for his historic candidacy, too.
Now, Mr. Buttigieg is looking for commitment.
After vaulting into the top tier of presidential candidates vying for the 2020 Democratic nomination — going from “adorable” to “plausible,” in his own words — Mr. Buttigieg is building on the fly a nationwide network of donors that is anchored by many wealthy and well-connected figures in lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender political circles.
From more intimate cocktail parties on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, where the composer Stephen Sondheim appeared in March, to larger events, like a planned June gala at the Beverly Hills home of the television producer Ryan Murphy, the L.G.B.T. donor base is helping push Mr. Buttigieg from the margins of the presidential contest into the same moneyed circles that raised millions of dollars for Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.
Top L.G.B.T. donors face no shortage of loyal allies among the 20 Democratic candidates. But Mr. Buttigieg’s candidacy has struck an especially powerful chord with many of them. Though many said they believed they would see a gay man or lesbian become a serious contender for the White House one day, most of them had never considered it beyond the abstract. Mr. Buttigieg’s ascent has made a sudden and unexpected reality of something they thought was still years away, if not decades.
Pete Buttigieg, the 37-year-old Democratic mayor of South Bend, Ind., has gained surprising early visibility in the 2020 presidential race. Also known as “Mayor Pete,” he is vying to become the first openly gay president.CreditCreditAlyssa Schukar for The New York Times
“There is absolutely no way to be cavalier about this candidacy — it is extraordinary,” said the television producer Richie Jackson, who with his husband, the Broadway producer Jordan Roth, hosted a fund-raiser for Mr. Buttigieg at their New York City home this month.
The L.G.B.T. support provided Mr. Buttigieg a crucial early financial foothold before his candidacy began to surge after a CNN town-hall-style event in March, and now is poised to power a campaign staffing up nationally and in the early-primary states. His rise has threatened the donor allegiances that other candidates, led by former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., have established over many years in the L.G.B.T. world.
The flood of money does not come without risk. Though Mr. Buttigieg’s campaign announced last week that it would no longer accept contributions from federal lobbyists, and also said it was refunding $30,250 from lobbyists who had already donated, many of his gay donors have ties to the kinds of elite businesses that could tarnish his image as the embodiment of small-town, Midwestern America.
Mr. Buttigieg’s sexual orientation is not central to how he has sold himself to the voting public — as a veteran, a Rhodes scholar and a government executive with the thoughtfulness and temperament needed to bridge the country’s bitter partisan divide.
But his sexuality became a much larger part of his political identity after he spoke this month to the Victory Fund, a group that supports L.G.B.T. candidates. In that speech, he described his struggle with coming out of the closet and challenged Vice President Mike Pence, an opponent of gay rights.
And his husband, Chasten, known for his prolific Twitter commentary, has become such a draw on the campaign trail that Mr. Buttigieg sometimes says he is “better known as the husband of Chasten Buttigieg.”
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Now he rarely goes more than a few days between private events hosted by prominent gay donors. Through mid-May, he has nearly two dozen fund-raisers planned, including one in New York hosted by Andy Cohen, the Bravo host, and Michael Stipe, the former lead singer of R.E.M.
“Pete is committed to standing with fellow members of the L.G.B.T.Q. community as the struggle for equality continues,” the Buttigieg campaign said in a statement. “He is grateful for the support he’s received.”
On Tuesday, he was in the Boston area for back-to-back fund-raisers with other prominent L.G.B.T. guests. The first featured Mr. Buttigieg in conversation with Brandon Victor Dixon, the Broadway actor who confronted Mr. Pence from the stage of “Hamilton.” The second was being hosted by Bryan Rafanelli and Mark Walsh, longtime confidants of the Clintons.
Brad Lippitz, a real estate broker, is already organizing a second fund-raising event for Mr. Buttigieg because the first he was part of was such a success. Mr. Lippitz said he had had every intention of staying neutral in the primary — until he and his husband heard the mayor address Equality Illinois, a gay rights organization, in February.
“We were blown away,” he said.
But the L.G.B.T. community is no monolith. And Mr. Buttigieg’s candidacy is exposing tensions that have been papered over during the period of relative unity and common purpose that has taken hold since President Trump took office. The political priorities of the affluent white gay men who have mostly filled Mr. Buttigieg’s coffers often differ from those of other gay men, lesbians and transgender people. And the enthusiasm for his campaign is not universal.
“People are excited that there is, at least nominally, a viable candidate that is gay. That is uplifting,” said Alix Ritchie, a Democratic fund-raiser and board member of LPAC, a group seeking to empower L.G.B.T. women. But, she added, “I personally feel rather discouraged that the only attention being paid to Democratic candidates is a bunch of white guys. In terms of media coverage, the women are just being wiped off the map.”