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Pete's path: How Buttigieg plans to win the Democratic nomination

Pete Buttgieg campaign raises $7 million

Four weeks ago, Pete Buttigieg was a small town mayor with a tongue twister of a surname who also happened to be one of the many, many Democrats running for president.

A nationally televised town hall, a couple of viral interviews, and $7 million dollars later, "Mayor Pete" is a bonafide political celebrity trying to rapidly scale up his organization.

Buttigieg, who announced an exploratory committee in January, is planning to formally launch his presidential campaign sometime this month. This week, he moved into a campaign headquarters in his hometown of South Bend, with BOOT EDGE EDGE (the correct pronunciation) painted in bold blue letters on yellow wall.

"If nothing else, everybody who walks into this space is going to know how to say our name," the mayor said in a video Tuesday, giving viewers a Sorkineqsue walk-and-talk through the new digs.

If name identification was the first hurdle, Buttigieg and his team are now faced with the challenge of capitalizing on the newfound success. That means building an organization in early states and translating curiosity into commitments.

"It's a good problem to have," says Mike Schmuhl, Buttigieg's campaign manager. "We just need more hands on deck." 

The campaign is busy hiring, aiming in the immediate term to double his current staff of 20. In the last week, the communications shop hired three people. "We run a very lean and mean campaign and plan to continue," said Lis Smith, Buttigieg's communications adviser. "There is no desire to become bloated or consultant heavy."

The campaign first started to feel momentum building last month when 400 people showed up to a town hall the mayor held in New Hampshire. Two days later, Buttigieg traveled to Austin to participate in a town hall hosted by CNN. In the 24 hours following his appearance there, the campaign raised $600,000.

That moment was the turning point in the campaign, Buttigieg's aides say. Soon afterward, he met the requirement for the first Democratic primary debate in Miami in June, reaching the threshold of 65,000 grassroots donations, On Monday, the mayor announced he had raised $7 million from 158,550 donors in the first quarter -- a remarkable number for a long-shot candidate. 

For comparison, California Sen. Kamala Harris, solidly within the top tier of contenders, raised $12 million in the first quarter. Buttigieg's average donation was $36, with 64 percent of contributions coming in under $200.

"Every metric I'm seeing -- the media coverage, the money we are bringing in, the staff able to hire, the invites we get -- is just flashing green and pointing in the right direction," says Schmuhl.

The campaign says Buttigieg's accessibility to voters and to the media has been a priority from the outset, and attributes part of his rise to that strategy. And in many ways, the candidate is the campaign, with a biography that sets him apart from a crowded field: He's a millennial mayor of a midwest city, a Harvard-educated Afghanistan war veteran, and a gay man who came out while running for re-election in Mike Pence's Indiana. During the CNN town hall, Buttigieg made headlines for calling Pence "a cheerleader for a porn star presidency."  

Indiana is two doors down from Iowa, a state critical to Buttigieg's path. The mayor and his husband live two miles away from the interstate that would take them to the Hawkeye State. And the two states have cultural and political similarities, one which his team believes he can leverage.

But they are also fielding invites and offers to host fundraisers in other states. Buttigieg will be in New York City on Thursday to attend Al Sharpton's National Action Network conference, which has become a forum for 2020 contenders. He spent this past weekend meeting potential contributors in Los Angeles, and is spending this coming one campaigning in Nevada. 

In a primary where voters are placing a premium on electability, Buttigieg's fundraising haul gives an "indication you might be able to build an organization that can subsist through this long primary," Lucas Meyer of the New Hampshire Young Democrats says, noting that the field is still pretty fluid. 

"There's definitely a lot of curiosity" in Buttigieg, says Meyer. "There's a lot of room to grow, as opposed to a U.S. Senator who you know that they're selling...there is an information gap to fill [about Buttigieg] and people have been impressed."