When Pete Buttigieg officially announced his campaign for president over the weekend, more than a few showbiz personalities weighed in to comment on the history being made.
Ellen DeGeneres wrote on Twitter, “These words make me very, very happy. ‘My name is @petebuttigieg. They call me Mayor Pete. I am a proud son of South Bend, Indiana. And I am running for President of the United States.'”
Buttigieg is no longer the longest of long shots, the mayor of mid-sized city, South Bend, with a population slightly less than that of Burbank. He’s a viable contender making an audacious bid for the White House. Based on his campaign’s first finance report filed on Monday with the Federal Election Commission, he’s drawn a significant amount of support from the entertainment industry, which will likely continue. Sources say that Buttigieg is planning another visit around May 9, with plans for a rally and at least one major fundraiser.
The interest in Buttigieg is driven in part by his personal story, as the first credible openly gay candidate for the Democratic nomination, and as a veteran of the war in Afghanistan. His persona seems like a 180 degree contrast to the current occupant of the Oval Office. Buttigieg’s March 10 CNN town hall boosted his profile, and many of his contributors chipped into his campaign after that point.
Among the donors to Buttigieg were writer-producer Neal Baer, director John August, writer-producer Joshua Brand, writer-producer Dana Calvo, writer Ilene Chaiken, Laurie David, writer-producer Alex Gansa, writer James Gleick, Mandy Moore, Ryan Reynolds, writer Eric Roth, writer Paul Rudnick, “Game of Thrones” executive producer Carolyn Strauss, Lynne Wasserman, actor Carl Weathers and Bradley Whitford. Other donors included sportscaster Rich Eisen and former 21st Century Fox CEO James Murdoch, along with former National Security Adviser Susan Rice and Caroline Kennedy.
Hannah Linkenhoker, senior political strategist at ICM Partners, said that the attention around Buttigieg also can be attributed in part to “the fact that he is a self proclaimed millennial candidate, and part of a generation not had presidential candidates before.” She said that ICM’s Eddy Yablans, who represents DeGeneres, first called attention to Buttigieg a year and a half ago and he has since visited the agency a couple of times.
Buttigieg has been adept at maximizing publicity, granting access and interviews to numerous news outlets and non-political media. On Monday, he appeared on “TMZ Live,” answering questions from Harvey Levin. He asked Buttigieg how he would handle homophobic remarks during the race.
“I’m used to bullying,” he said. “You confront it initially, and then you move on.”
Buttigieg last month attended a meet-and-greet event at Hillcrest Country Club, as many longtime showbiz contributors want to survey the field of contenders before deciding on one campaign. All campaigns are required to file their reports by midnight on Monday, and they’re likely to show that many donors are giving to multiple candidates. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) is expected to lead all contenders in showbiz money, with contributions from figures such as Ben Affleck, Lily Tomlin and Quincy Jones, according to the New York Post. But donors also are waiting to see if other candidates, like former Vice President Joe Biden, get the race.
Lara Bergthold, political consultant at RALLY Communications, said that for many donors Buttigieg’s announcement speech “touched every button they wanted. Whether that translates into ‘I am not giving money to anyone else’ is not really clear.”
Democrats have had success with new voices — Bill Clinton in 1992 and Barack Obama in 2008. But Bergthold said that Buttigieg may have more parallels to Jimmy Carter in 1976, as Carter had very little name recognition before he ran for president in a crowded field of 17 candidates. It’s also still very, very early.