SAN FRANCISCO (KTVU) - Democratic presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg is set to speak at a Human Rights Campaign dinner in Las Vegas Saturday after a west coast fundraising tour that took him through Los Angeles, Palo Alto and San Francisco.
About 1,300 people attended a grassroots fundraising event Friday at San Francisco's Regency Ballroom, paying $25 to $1,000 for a ticket to hear him speak.
Buttigieg, who was introduced by his husband Chasten, is the Democratic party's first openly gay presidential candidate, a Midwestern, military veteran and mayor of South Bend, Indiana who got a big-city welcome in San Francisco.
"I'm mindful that I'm in a city where a certain path-breaking leader said you gotta give them hope," said Mayor Buttigieg, paying tribute to San Francisco's gay rights icon Harvey Milk.
Buttigieg told the crowd this was an historic moment.
"The life experience of somebody from a new generation could be exactly what we need at a moment like this," said Buttigieg.
While he lacks experience in Washington D.C., his life experience serving as a Navy reserve intelligence officer in Afghanistan, a former Rhodes Scholar, and an openly gay married man, is what appealed to many who lined up down the block and around the corner before the event.
"He just seems very honest and that's something I find attractive," said Zachary Davenport of San Francisco, "He's also gay. To me, something I never thought was possible, to think that that's possible is really amazing."
"He's definitely my number one but honestly, I'm excited for most of them. I do like that there's a lot of diversity," said Emanuel Campo of San Francisco.
Buttigieg acknowledged he might seem like an unlikely candidate, but during his nearly 30 minute speech he contrasted his vision of America with the words and actions of President Trump, who has mocked Buttigieg, comparing him Friday to an old Mad magazine cartoon character.
"Alfred E. Neuman cannot become president of the United States," President Trump reportedly told reporters from Politico.
Backstage, before the San Francisco fundraiser Friday, Buttigieg smiled when asked for his response.
"So, I'll be honest, I had to Google that. I guess it's a generational thing. I didn't get the reference. It's kind of funny I guess, but he's also the President of the United States and I'm kind of surprised that he's not spending more time trying to salvage this China deal," said Buttigieg.
He also says he's confident Democrats can regain support in swing states that Mr. Trump won in 2016.
"I think it's important for many areas that maybe lost touch with the Democratic party to feel regarded to feel like we care about for example industrial communities where I live and rural communities," said Buttigieg, "The important thing is not to veer one inch from the policies that make us Democrats, but to find a plain English vocabulary to make sure that they are as clear to voters in the industrial Midwest as they are to voters on the coasts."
Speaking about reproductive rights, gay marriage, immigration, the climate, and his theme of "Freedom, security and democracy," Buttigieg got big cheers.
"One way to make sure something's different is to put up a laid-back intellectual gay man," he said, "Can I count on your help?"
Reaction ranged from diehard fans swearing support to Democrats willing to consider him as a top choice in a field of 21 candidates.
"I just think he touches a lot of different communities and different walks of life," said Graham Harbison of San Francisco.
"I really love Kamala Harris. I'm really intrigued and excited by Mayor Pete," said Roz Romney, a San Francisco Democrat who says she likes many of the candidates.
Buttigieg, who was not widely known nationally before declaring his candidacy in April, has faced questions about whether he can get support from African Americans and other minority groups.
"He's lesser known, but every time he gets in a room with an Al Sharpton or other people, he gets more exposure to those groups. I think he's a great empathetic leader," said Cleo Kirkland of San Francisco, "and I think we're on the precipice of an historical moment."
"He doesn't seem to be confrontational for effect. He's just so smart and so refreshing," said Deborah Fieldson, who drove several hours with three others from Sacramento to hear Buttigieg speak.
Buttigieg says he is courting high-dollar donors as well as grassroots contributions, unlike some other Democrats, in order to help get his message out.
He is expected to return to California and be among the Democratic presidential candidates speaking at the state Democratic Party convention May 31-June 2.