By BRIAN A. HOWEY

INDIANAPOLIS  — Pete Buttigieg is a “one percenter.” No, he’s not a billionaire who received a motherlode financial break in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. The South Bend mayor is at that threshold in the CNN/Des Moines Register Poll, with another 1% listing him as their second choice.

Essentially, the CNN/Register Poll’s value is that of the earliest 2020 name ID mileposts and not truly indicative of how this Democratic presidential nomination race will unfold. But on Sunday night, Mayor Pete received an hour of primetime exposure during his CNN Town Hall with host Jake Tapper. The reaction within the Democratic Party was overwhelmingly positive.

David Axelrod, a key political aide to President Obama, tweeted, “I have rarely seen a candidate make better use of televised Town Hall than @PeteButtigieg is on @CNN tonight. Crisp, thoughtful and relatable. He’ll be a little less of a long shot tomorrow.”

The eastern press was in the same camp. MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough, a disavowed Republican, observed, “Mayor Pete is gifted and he’s more than this novelty act and this young candidate. I think he’s going to make some noise.” 

“I feel like he’s a real candidate. Every time he opens his mouth, things get better,” said co-host Mika Brezinski. “I’m sort of waiting to see more.” Washington Post reporter and Notre Dame graduate Robert Costa added, “This Buttigieg town hall is worth watching. Polished and thoughtful presentation with clear answers. Underscores military experience. Of course, it’s a big field and he’s a young Midwestern mayor. But he’s using his time on stage effectively here. This is a focused candidate.” 

Such fawning doesn’t mean there’s a mayoral juggernaut beginning to roll. It means he will likely get an earnest second look. 

Buttigieg had the single biggest fundraising day of his 2020 campaign on Monday, according to an aide to the mayor, receiving a significant boost after a widely heralded performance during a CNN town hall. According to the Buttigieg aide, the mayor raised more than $600,000 from over 22,200 donations in the 24 hours after the CNN town hall. The mayor asked donors live on CNN to donate to his committee toward the end of his town hall. “I’m thrilled by the support we’ve received over the last day,” Buttigieg said. “We’re not accepting corporate PAC money and we don’t have the gilded fundraising base that comes with being a more established figure in Washington, so grassroots fundraising will be crucial for this effort.”

How did Buttigieg pull off this admiration?

On Friday in a second foray into New Hampshire, Buttigieg created a buzz by calling for an expanded U.S. Supreme Court and the abolition of the Electoral College.

By the time he took the stage in Austin, Tex., Sunday night, he used those issues and his emerging foil –  fellow Hoosier Vice President Mike Pence –  to burnish initial impressions for a widening swath of the dysfunctional Democratic family. He also approached gnawing issues such as automation and income inequality with a nuanced, hybrid approach.

The biggest sparks that will attract attention from Democratic primary voters were his comments on Pence. It’s a complicated relationship, with the former Indiana governor and the South Bend mayor actually forging a working relationship during the four years when both were Hoosier executives. Pence’s animosity toward an openly gay official never surfaced in that context, as the two had economic development bonds and a mutual affinity for Pence’s Regional Cities initiative.

The mayor was asked about his origins from Pence’s Indiana. Buttigieg answered, “Please don’t judge my state by our former governor. I think those ties are so out of line from where anybody is.” Buttigieg said that Pence “divided our state” with his Religious Freedom Restoration Act in 2015. “It was really a license to discriminate, that’s what it was,” Buttigieg said, adding, the “amazing” reaction was pushback from Democratic and Republican mayors and the conservative business community. “My hope is that same decency can be summoned from communities in both red and blue states.”

Asked whether Pence would be better as president than Donald Trump, Buttigieg paused for a pregnant moment that became fodder for the Monday morning news shows, then said, “Both. Does it have to be? I disagreed with him furiously on things. At least he believes in our institutions and is not corrupt. But how could he allow himself to get on board with this president? How does he become the biggest cheerleader for the porn star presidency? Is it that he stopped believing in scripture when he started believing in Donald Trump?”

That became the opening soundbite of the week. While Democratic Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Kristin Gillibrand and Amy Klobuchar were dealing with staffing and ancestral controversies, Buttigieg emerged as the new flavor that might bring about a long, second look. Pence-bashing in Democratic circles is vogue, and Mayor Pete has real world experience there.

Buttigieg was asked if he favored the impeachment of President Trump. “I would like to see this president and the style of politics he represents sent off through the electoral process, decisively defeated at the ballot box,” Buttigieg responded. He added, “I come from the industrial Midwest and there were a lot of people who voted for him who voted for me and Barack Obama.” But he wouldn’t rule out pursuing impeachment if high crimes and misdemeanors are evident in the “imminent” Robert Mueller Russia probe.

On CNN and in New Hampshire, Buttigieg made it clear that the 2020 election is more than just a referendum on the current regime. “The 2020 election is about more than just the next four years and defeating Donald Trump,” he explained. “It must address the seismic changes our nation is facing –  both globally and at home –  and ensure every American has the opportunity to succeed.”

When a question on Venezuela came up, Navy Lt. Buttigieg pivoted toward his military career and took aim at the White House and National Security Advisor John Bolton over the Middle East. “The situation in Venezuela is highly disturbing. The regime lost its legitimacy,” Buttigieg said. “That being said, that doesn’t mean we carelessly threaten the use of military force, which it appeared the national security adviser was doing at one point. I don’t understand how somebody leading us into the Iraq War is allowed that near the Situation Room to begin with.” 

The mayor was asked about his stance he revealed on Friday in New Hampshire when he called for an end to the Electoral College. “In an American presidential election, the person who gets the most votes should win,” he said. “We ought to make sure everybody has the same voice. In Indiana, most years we have no voice at all.”

He also called for adding seats to the U.S. Supreme Court, noting, “What we need to do is stop the Supreme Court from sliding toward being viewed as a nakedly political institution. I’m for us contemplating whatever policy options will allow that to be possible. One of them involves having 15 instead of 9 justices, but I’m not just talking about suppose I get elected as president and daring the next president who might be conservative to throw on a couple more. That’s the last thing we want to do. What we need to do is stop every vacancy from becoming this apocalyptic battle that harms the country.”

Noting his marriage to his husband, Buttigieg added, “I’m married because of the grace of a single vote on the U.S. Supreme Court.”

On the concept of Medicare for all, Buttigieg explained, “The ACA made a great difference, but it hasn’t gotten us all the way there. In fact, it’s under attack by the current administration. We need to explore Medicare for all.” He describes it as making Medicare “available on the exchange as a public option. It will be more efficient and more cost-effective over time.”

And on universal pay, the mayor said he was open to exploring the concept, noting that Stockton, CA., was giving $400 to each resident. “Maybe we ought to broaden our definition of work,” he said. “If you are taking care of a parent, or raising a child, isn’t that work?”

On climate change, he explained, “To some extent we’re already in adaptation mode. We’ve got to reduce carbon levels by the Paris Accords.” He called for “more investment in renewables” and a “carbon tax,” though he begged his audience to understand his more nuanced approach. “That cost is going to be paid, one way or another,” he said.

His overall theme comes back to his eight-year tenure at the helm of South Bend. “The advances we’ve made in South Bend serve as a shining example at this point in our nation’s history, especially when Americans have been offered a vision of greatness that means turning back the clock,” he said. “We need big, bold policies that are shaped by what we want our country to look like generations from now. As a country, we’re facing deep structural problems that can only be addressed by fixing the engine of our democracy. The reality is that every other important issue of our time, from gun violence to climate change to access to healthcare,  isn’t going to get better as long as our democracy remains warped. Our freedom depends on our ability to make bold changes.”

The Buttigieg campaign now faces a two-and-a-half-month period where he will move out of exploratory mode. He will need to staff up. He will have to attract enough donors in order to make the cut for the first party-sanctioned debates in June, with 11 others scheduled in the six months thereafter.

With septuagenarians Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders leading the early polling, Buttigieg will need to emerge as the youthful alternative in a field crowded with 40- and 50-something candidates in order to leave his “one percenter” status in the rear view mirror.