The line at The Barn — the newish, vast beer garden destination by Drake’s Brewing Company on the Sacramento River’s westside — was unusually long on Sunday: wrapping around half of the venue, then winding down the sidewalk toward the ballpark formerly known as Raley Field.
Dozens of people wore T-shirts with the words “Boot Edge Edge” emblazoned on them. Vendors erected pop-up tents and hawked those shirts, plus hats and all sorts of other swag promoting Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg.
So went one of the first 2020 election events to come to the Sacramento region this year. When it finally kicked off, organizers estimated more than 2,000 people packed in to the outdoor beer garden — not your typical venue for a political rally.
When Buttigieg finally emerged, he marveled at the turnout and likened Sacramento to South Bend, Indiana, where he serves as mayor.
“This tells me that we are building a movement,” he said. “We were just putting our California staff in place. So that fact that you all have self organized to drive toward a better future means that our campaign has a fantastic head start.”
Where the candidate lagged was discussing actual California and Sacramento issues. Those intractable challenges in the Golden State, from the housing-affordability crisis and homelessness to wildfires and police use of force, didn’t emerge from Buttigieg’s tried-and-true stump speech.
For the event, the campaign initially asked everyone who wanted to attend to donate something, including $5 for students. But organizers announced on Friday that the event would be free to all. Those who ponied-up at least $500 were invited inside the beer garden’s bar and restaurant, according to one event organizer.
Andrew Morical didn’t attend the VIP event but stood front-and-center facing the stage most of the morning. He says he was the first to arrive at the rally, at 8:30 a.m., after driving in from Yuba City.
“Sometimes I feel trapped in Trump country, so this is a great opportunity on a Sunday with more like-minded people,” he said.
Morical, who identified as “on the liberal side,” says he embraces Buttigieg because, unlike more progressive Democratic nominees, “he is trying to speak to people who are Republican.”
“It’s not the whole ‘My way or the highway,’” Morical said, specifically citing Buttigieg’s health care plan, which he described as “Medicare for all for those who want it,” a contrast to the plans of candidates such as Senators Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders.
He says he’s previously attended two of Buttigieg’s rallies. “They’re clearly getting bigger and bigger,” he said.
Or, as West Sacramento Mayor Christopher Cabaldon put it during his introduction of Buttigieg, who he counts as a friend: “Welcome to what very well may be the largest grassroots fundraiser of the entire Pete Buttigieg campaign anywhere in America today.”
During his speech, Buttigieg didn’t give more than a passing reference to the news of the week: The Trump-Ukraine controversy.
“When somebody blows the whistle on official misconduct, that is an act of loyalty to the Republic for which it stands. And we ought to respect that, from the White House on down,” he said.
During a press gaggle after his speech, in response to a question about pursuing an impeachment inquiry based on the Trump-Ukraine situation, he did say it’s important to “do the right thing and deal with the politics afterward.”
There were many moments that might only go down in states like California, such as when Buttigieg took questions from the crowd, and he was asked “as one of the most famous gay couples” if he had any planning advice for a gay wedding.
“Oh gosh,” he responded. “I would be reluctant to give wedding planning advice, because everybody’s there because they love you. And so, don’t worry so much … Don’t let it stress you out too much.”
Buttigieg often shows up fourth in national Democratic presidential polls, but is tallying double-digits in Iowa. This week’s LA Times-UC Berkeley poll sat Buttigieg in fifth place in California.
On Sunday, he insisted he’ll return “often and early” in California, where he is shoring up staff. And he’ll be banking on a familiar theme to rally voters.
“I know hope went out of style for a while in American politics,” Buttigieg said during the end of his 45 minute speech. “But right now, we need not naive hope, but the hope and optimism that propels people who literally cannot afford to go back, and we as a country cannot afford to go back.”
Hope — and a pint of beer.