Pete Buttigieg speaks in “Millennials in Politics” seminar at Northeastern University

Potential Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg called for affordable higher education and equal opportunities for those without a college degree as he spoke to approximately 1,000 college students and Massachusetts locals at Northeastern University on April 3.

Buttigieg gave his presidential campaign platform at a seminar—”The Civic Experience: Millennials in Politics”— in Northeastern’s Blackman Auditorium that sold out at least two days prior. Buttigieg’s event is the latest in the university’s seminar series on the nation’s political climate. In previous seminars, the series featured speakers such as NBC News’ chief White House correspondent Hallie Jackson and FiveThirtyEight founder Nate Silver.

Buttigieg is polling at 3 percent nationally out of 487 of the individuals surveyed, according to the Emerson College Polling Society poll released on March 19. The Indiana Mayor tweeted that his campaign had raised more than $7 million in the first quarter—only $2.4 million behind former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) who is polling at 11 percent nationally.

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Emerson Polling Society advisor Spencer Kimball said that the most important issue for all voters is the trustworthiness of a candidate and that Buttigieg’s appearance of authenticity attracts the similar type of young democratic voters as 2020 presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.

“He does well with younger voters, which is pulling a little bit away from Bernie Sanders,” Kimball said in a phone interview. “I think a part of his appeal could be the difficulty of his last name because most of people are calling him ‘Mayor Pete’ and there’s something a little bit friendlier about ‘Hey, Mayor Pete!’ as supposed to ‘Mayor Buttigieg.’”

The 37-year-old mayor of South Bend, Indiana, is an Afghanistan war veteran, the youngest 2020 candidate, and the first openly gay U.S. presidential candidate in history.

Freshman Wesley Badalucco, Emerson’s Advancement Group for Love and Expression director of programming, could not attend the event at Northeastern University but said he supports Buttigieg’s views on climate change and the LGBTQ+ community.

“The fact that he is openly gay is really radical because we’ve never had that before in a candidate who runs for president, and I think that’s really important considering that [President Donald Trump’s] administration has basically and, in a way, declared war on the LGBTQ community,” Badalucco said in a phone interview.

Buttigieg said he thinks young voters are looking for a candidate that can speak to what the era ahead of us will look like, besides to concerns in the U.S. at this moment. 

“I don’t think young people will simply vote for the candidate who is nearest to them in age,” Buttigieg said at a press conference prior to the event. “If I want to earn their vote, I’m gonna have to do just that—earn it.”

Buttigieg said that he and his partner Chasten Buttigieg live with six-figure student loan debts.

“College has increasingly become unaffordable, if not up front, then in effect after the fact, because living with a college degree can almost be a disadvantage to people financially,” Buttigieg said. “I don’t know that I can responsibly promise that the cost of higher education can be removed from the student, but I believe we can make a big difference.”

Buttigieg said his team could expand public accessibility to programs such as Teacher Loan Forgiveness and Public Service Loan Forgiveness. The mayor said he would also review student loan interest rates and work toward refinancing students or making those rates more affordable.

“Everybody who wants to go to college and belongs there should be able to afford it, and everybody who doesn’t should still be able to have a healthy middle-class life,” he said.

Badalucco said he believes higher education is a right for everyone, but attending college is a privilege.  

“I think that making college affordable should be a priority for most candidates and politicians, preferably on their policies,” Badalucco. “There is a huge amount of young, very smart students who get turned away and closed off to a lot of doors and opportunities because they can’t afford college, and it’s not like Emerson is the most affordable college.”

Badalucco said he would definitely consider voting for Buttigieg if the mayor officially declares that he will run for the 2020 presidential seat.

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