Barney Frank: Buttigieg wouldn't be getting the same attention 'if he were straight'

Former Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) says he doesn't think Democratic presidential candidate Pete ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul ButtigiegThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump says no legislation until Dems end probes Harris readies a Phase 2 as she seeks to rejuvenate campaign 2020 Dems put spotlight on disabilities issues MORE would have had the same meteoric rise in the polls he's seen "if he was straight."

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“If he were straight, I don’t think he’d be getting the attention that he’s getting,” Frank told host Chris Matthews on MSNBC's "Hardball" on Wednesday. But Frank added, that when Buttigieg "gets the attention, he is so talented and good at this and solid that he makes the most of it.”

Both Buttigieg and Frank are openly gay.

Matthews contrasted the reception Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Ind., received with Frank's own experiences in Congress. He recalled that when Frank came out to then-House Speaker Thomas “Tip” O’Neill (D-Mass.), O’Neill responded that he was “sorry to hear it,” saying Frank could otherwise have been Speaker some day.

Frank called Buttigieg's progress “both a sign that the prejudice is diminishing and it is an opportunity further to diminish the prejudice by giving him this platform.”

Buttigieg during a speech in Iowa this week was interrupted by far-right activist Randall Terry, who shouted “remember Sodom and Gomorrah.” The next day at another event, Buttigieg was greeted by protesters dressed as him, Satan and Jesus.

“People don’t get heckled if nobody thinks they’re a threat,” Frank told Matthews about the protesters. “The fact that these bigoted lunatics start acting out in public, it’s a sign of their desperation.”

Buttigieg has overcome initial low name recognition and a crowded Democratic field to surge to the upper tier of Democratic candidates in recent weeks.

Multiple polls have shown the 37-year-old mayor in third place behind former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump says no legislation until Dems end probes Harris readies a Phase 2 as she seeks to rejuvenate campaign 2020 Dems put spotlight on disabilities issues MORE and Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersHarris readies a Phase 2 as she seeks to rejuvenate campaign 2020 Dems put spotlight on disabilities issues Lee, Sanders introduce bill to tax Wall Street transactions MORE (I-Vt.). A national poll indicates that if the former vice president, who has not yet officially announced a bid, declines to run, Buttigieg would be the second choice for 17 percent of Biden supporters.