More than 1,600 people attended a rally for Democratic presidential candidate Pete ButtigiegPete ButtigiegButtigieg hits back after parental leave criticism: 'Really strange' The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by The Conference of Presidents of Major Italian American Organizations - US opens to vaccinated visitors as FDA panel discusses boosters Tucker Carlson mocks Buttigieg over paternity leave MORE in Des Moines, Iowa, on Tuesday after it was originally supposed to be a 50 person meet-and-greet.
The mayor of South Bend., Ind., garnered large crowds at his highly anticipated campaign stops following his official campaign launch amid a sudden rise in polls, the Quad-City Times reported.
“To have vaulted into the higher tier as we have is really encouraging,” Buttigieg said. “But I also know that this is just the beginning. We have a lot of work to do.”
The candidate stopped at a standing-room-only town hall in Fort Dodge before attending the massive rally in Iowa's capital of Des Moines.
The rally was briefly interrupted when two protesters started yelling over Buttigieg’s remarks about his husband.
The newspaper noted that the protest was a reference to the biblical passage about two cities that were destroyed by God as punishment for residents’ sexual behavior, including sodomy.
Buttigieg, 37, is the first openly gay Democratic presidential candidate and married Chasten Buttigieg in June 2018.
“The good news is the condition of my soul is in the hands of God, but the Iowa caucuses are up to you,” Buttigieg told the crowd as the first protester was led away.
"Remember the beauty of our democracy. Everyone here gets the exact same voice and vote. Feels like the numbers are on our side," he added after the second protester was removed.
Buttigieg has recently engaged in a high-profile back-and-forth with Vice President Pence and other GOP lawmakers for their stance on LGBTQ issues.
The Democratic candidate has been critical of Pence for signing a law in 2015 while serving as Indiana's governor that allowed businesses to use religious liberty as a defense if they believed the government was burdening their exercise of religion. Critics argued the law would allow businesses to discriminate against the LGBTQ community.
Pence and his wife, Karen, have pushed back against his criticism, saying he is unfairly taking aim at them.
"I've known mayor Pete for many years. We worked very closely together when I was governor, and I considered him a friend. And he knows I don't have a problem with him," Pence said last week, adding that he thinks Buttigieg's complaints may be with the First Amendment. "I don't believe in discrimination against anybody. I treat everybody the way I want to be treated."
Buttigieg responded Tuesday by saying that while Pence is entitled to his religious beliefs, his “problem is when those religious beliefs are used as an excuse to harm other people.”
The candidate has surged ahead in the crowded field of Democrats, coming in third in a new Emerson poll behind Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersSanders, Manchin escalate fight over .5T spending bill Sanders blames media for Americans not knowing details of Biden spending plan Briahna Joy Gray: Proposals favored by Black voters 'first at the chopping block' in spending talks MORE (I-Vt.) and former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenJill Biden campaigns for McAuliffe in Virginia Fill the Eastern District of Virginia Biden: Those who defy Jan. 6 subpoenas should be prosecuted MORE, who has not yet formally launched a campaign but is widely expected to do so.