As soon as it became clear who'd win the February 22 Nevada caucus (Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, with ex-veep Joe Biden a distant second), former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, the third-place finisher, jetted to the metro area to court support in the Colorado primary, part of the make-or-break, multi-state March 3 vote-a-palooza collectively known as Super Tuesday. The thousands he attracted spoke to the many members of the local electorate who've yet to make up their minds about who they'd most like to take on Donald Trump this November.
Buttigieg came mighty close to filling a 5,000-capacity space at the Crowne Plaza Denver Airport Convention Center in Aurora late on February 22, and he scored a viral moment thanks to a nine-year-old named Zachary Ro.
Doors didn't open at the Buttigieg get-together until 8:30 p.m. on Saturday, and each attendee was asked to check in with a staffer. Pre-registrants were asked if they would volunteer for the campaign or, alternately, if they would host an out-of-town Buttigieg backer at their home; after that, their hands were marked with an X from a Sharpie. As the throng filed into the hotel and through a labyrinth of corridors en route to the final destination, the former mayor's minions repeatedly said, "Show your X. Show your X."
Inside, Denver band Wildermiss cranked out a moderate-volume set of angular, post-Cranberries jangle rock as the Buttigieg crew eagerly passed out placards, including one that was, in essence, a pronunciation guide for his last name: It read, "BOOT EDGE EDGE."
The crowd, meanwhile, wasn't exactly representative of Aurora from a diversity standpoint. Buttigieg supporters portray questions about his lack of appeal to African-Americans in particular as a negative storyline cooked up by liberal Twitter, but facts are facts, and the people of color at the Crowne Plaza represented approximately 2 percent of the overall total. As for the rest, some had definitely signed up for Team Pete, but a hefty chunk came across as samplers checking out a new political flavor.
Wildermiss wrapped at around 9:25 p.m., and five minutes or so later, a trio of preview speakers (including Fort Collins-area representative Jenni Arndt) offered warm-up words. Then Buttigieg bounded onto the stage, and promptly went after Sanders, striking many of the same chords he'd played before lifting off from Nevada. He suggested that Super Tuesday may be the last chance to stop the Vermonter, and argued that we shouldn't replace one form of divisiveness with another — a remark that essentially positioned Sanders as the Trump of the left.
These comments received a fairly enthusiastic response, but fell short of the giant whoops Buttigieg received when he specifically ripped Trump or blasted what he portrayed as a broken immigration system and called for gun-law reform, complete with references to Aurora and Littleton. Less heat was generated by remarks that hinted at the need for reparations (though he didn't use the actual word) and Medicare for all who want it, a formulation meant to further distance the candidate from Sanders. He proved to be a more forceful and effective speaker at a rally than on the debate stage, where his slickness can be off-putting, but those who treated his every policy like a favorite song by a pop star were outnumbered by simple listeners.
After this introductory segment concluded, the focus shifted to a modified town-hall format, with questions drawn from a jar by Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold, who did her best to steal some of the spotlight from Mayor Pete. During her time at the microphone, Griswold touted herself as the first Democrat to serve in her position since 1958, the first Democratic woman to ever be elected to the role, and the youngest secretary of state in the nation, and also ballyhooed Colorado's voting procedures as the pride of the nation. Then, of the five or so "random" questions she asked, two of them just happened to be about the voting process, which put Buttigieg in the position of praising her further. It looked like she enjoyed that.
In the middle of these moments, however, Griswold read a note from the aforementioned Zachary Ro, who identified himself as gay and asked for advice about how to be as brave as Buttigieg, who has been a groundbreaker in this regard as a national candidate. Buttigieg reacted by calling Ro to the stage, where he sensitively praised the youngster for his own bravery as the gatherers chanted "Love is love!" By the time Ro stepped from the spotlight, dry eyes were definitely in the minority.
Whether this excitement will translate to a long-shot Super Tuesday victory for Buttigieg is unclear. But for one weekend, at least, the results of the Colorado primary seemed up for grabs.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.