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Buttigieg wins stellar reviews at CNN town hall

Pete ButtigiegPete ButtigiegButtigieg says federal government supports rights of companies to implement vaccine passport High-speed rail getting last minute push in Congress Buttigieg: Bipartisan deal on infrastructure 'strongly preferred' MORE impressed pundits with his CNN town hall performance Sunday night, giving the South Bend, Ind., mayor a much-needed boost in a crowded Democratic presidential field. 

Since he announced the formation of a presidential exploratory committee in January, the little-known Buttigieg has garnered few national headlines.

 

He’s been a lower-tier candidate, polling well behind former Vice President Joe BidenJoe Biden Pence said he's 'proud' Congress certified Biden's win on Jan. 6 Americans put the most trust in their doctor for COVID-19 information: poll US to give Afghanistan 3M doses of J&J vaccine MORE and Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Biden announces bipartisan infrastructure deal | DOJ backs Trump-era approval of Line 3 permit | Biden hits China on solar panels Biden says he won't sign bipartisan bill without reconciliation bill Business groups applaud bipartisan infrastructure deal MORE (I-Vt.) as well as Sens. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisWhite House deploys top officials in vaccine blitz Two top travel aides for Harris are leaving their posts: report America Ferrera slams 'abstractions' and 'platitudes' in immigration debate MORE (D-Calif.) and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Biden announces bipartisan infrastructure deal | DOJ backs Trump-era approval of Line 3 permit | Biden hits China on solar panels Progressives fire warning shot on bipartisan infrastructure deal Bipartisan agriculture climate bill clears Senate MORE (D-Mass.).

 

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But after seeing him in prime time Sunday, pundits and Democratic operatives argued the 37-year-old was worth a second look.

 

"Not sure whom I will support yet but going to make a donation to Pete Buttigieg to help make sure he can participate in the DNC debates," Brian Fallon, who served as a spokesman for Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonCommunion vote puts spotlight on Hispanic Catholics Trump's biggest political obstacle is Trump The Memo: Some Democrats worry rising crime will cost them MORE's 2016 presidential bid, tweeted after watching Buttigieg in the CNN town hall. 

 

David Axelrod, who served as chief strategist to former President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Senators, White House to meet on potential infrastructure deal Earthquake: Black candidates rack up city wins Obama: Voting rights bill must pass before next election MOREwrote on Twitter that he has "rarely seen a candidate make better use of a televised Town Hall."

 

"Crisp, thoughtful and relatable," Axelrod wrote. "He’ll be a little less of a long shot tomorrow."

 

Mark McKinnon, a Republican strategist and co-host of Showtime’s "The Circus" also took notice. 

 

"For a guy who hardly anyone knows, with no $$, and a name no one can pronounce, @PeteButtigieg has monstrous buzz," McKinnon wrote. "Says a lot about his raw talent that he’d stand out this much this early."

 

Buttigieg scored points and made instant headlines during the town hall by calling Vice President Pence a "cheerleader for the porn star presidency."

 

"How could he allow himself to become the cheerleader for the porn star presidency? Is it that he stopped believing in scripture when he started believing in Donald TrumpDonald Trump Pence said he's 'proud' Congress certified Biden's win on Jan. 6 Americans put the most trust in their doctor for COVID-19 information: poll OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Biden administration to evacuate Afghans who helped US l Serious differences remain between US and Iran on nuclear talks l US, Turkish officials meet to discuss security plans for Afghan airport MORE?" Buttigieg asked as the cameras rolled.

  

But Buttigieg had more than one applause line Sunday night. The people impressed with his performance argued that he showed off a knowledge of foreign and domestic policy issues and intelligently answered questions on a host of topics. In the process, he highlighted his experience as a mayor, as a member of the military deployed to Afghanistan and as a married gay man.

 

Buttigieg remains a heavy underdog in a race in which he is taking on much better-known politicians.

 

Buttigieg received less than 1 percent support in a Monmouth University poll released Monday that showed Biden, who has yet to enter the race, and Sanders at the head of the 2020 pack.

 

He lacks the campaign infrastructure rivals such as Sanders enjoy.

 

"At some point, you need a real operation to organize on the ground in Iowa and New Hampshire to help you weather and move past any missteps or scrutiny that will happen," one Democratic strategist said. 

 

But a source close to the campaign said Buttigieg is "feeling enthused" after his town hall appearance. While the campaign is small — it has just 20 staffers — it is also nimble, and Buttigieg is in the process of building a larger operation in the early primary states.

 

Buttigieg also gave himself something to build upon Sunday night.

 

"Each time I watch him, I am continuously impressed," said one strategist who worked on a few recent presidential campaigns, adding that Buttigieg "keeps exceeding expectations."

 

"I have real questions about if someone can jump from a smallish but iconic city mayor to [president], but he has earned a spot in the conversation and will be on the VP shortlist if he doesn’t emerge as the nominee," the source added.

 

The source close to the Buttigieg campaign pointed to the 130 watch parties across 37 states that took place Sunday evening to highlight the mayor’s support and how it could grow.

 

The watch parties were all organized by the Buttigieg campaign and its supporters.

 

Buttigieg’s grass-roots fundraising team, comprised of more than 5,000 supporters, also used the town hall to train up on how to fundraise, the source close to the campaign said, adding that the campaign will continue to use a strategy of digital and grass-roots organizing built from the ground up. 

 

Will Buttigieg’s exploratory committee sprout into a full-fledged campaign? 

 

"He said that all signs have been positive," the source said, adding that the Sunday night performance is exactly what he needed.