Pete! Pete! Pete! Buttigieg fever hits New Hampshire can he keep up the pace?

In Manchester and Concord the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, shone again as a persuasive centrist in a party moving left

If this weekend was anything to go by, Pete Buttigieg might be the hottest ticket in the Democratic party right now.

The 37-year-old mayor of South Bend, Indiana, held rallies in New Hampshire on Friday and Saturday and amid talk of job growth, healthcare and military service one thing was clear: if you want to see Buttigieg, get there early.

On Friday night Buttigieg his campaign T-shirts bear the phonetic spelling Boot-edge-edge had been due to hold a rally at a brewery in Manchester. Because of demand, he switched venues at the last minute to the Currier Museum of Art. That quickly sold out too, leaving 200 people standing outside at 7.30pm.

They got to see their man. Buttigieg emerged in the drizzle, to lusty chants of Pete! Pete! Pete! Hed even prepared a joke.

I hear the way you ingratiate yourself to voters is to stand on things, he said as he clambered on to a bench. It was a reference to the folksy, table-hopping style of his Texan rival Beto ORourke. As a gag it would have been more impressive if Buttigieg hadnt repeated it inside the museum 10 minutes later and at a bookstore the next day.

Buttigiegs stump speech is not filled with jokes. Short and slight with neat hair and a slightly reedy voice, he speaks earnestly, beginning by rattling off his extremely impressive resum.

The mayor of a city of 100,000 in the midwest, an area where Donald Trump made his biggest inroads in 2016, Buttigieg is a former navy reserve who served seven months in Afghanistan in 2014. He is also a Rhodes scholar who earned a first-class degree in philosophy, politics and economics from Oxford and graduated magna cum laudefrom Harvard.

He seems too good to be true, Marc Brown, who runs a T-shirt printing business in Salem, told the Guardian on Saturday. But I like everything Ive seen so far.

Theres plenty to like. Buttigieg has a polished speech and a tidy way of tying his credentials to broader themes.

He talks about how the supreme court ruling in favor of same-sex marriage meant his husband could attend his mothers bedside when she got cancer. He links his mothers illness to the importance of universal healthcare, which then segues into the importance of reproductive health an issue which got a huge cheer in Manchester. When Buttigieg talks about national security, he mentions his military career but also the threat of climate change and white nationalism.

Pete Buttigieg stands on a chair. Photograph: Mary Schwalm/Reuters

I like that hes a veteran, said Rebecca Small, a physician from Chester, a 20-minute drive east from Manchester. Hes tough, but hes smart; he speaks multiple languages, hes very well spoken, hes calm. He can be fairly progressive but he knows when to dial it back.

Im quite liberal, but we need someone whos kind of moderate, because we need someone to bring both sides together.

Small, 49, echoed the sentiments of others at both Buttigiegs New Hampshire rallies. This was a centrist, older crowd. Small is a fan of Senator Kamala Harris, from California, and former vice-president Joe Biden. Most of the people the Guardian met backed Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders in 2016.

Its interesting, said Laurie Brown, who is married to Marc Brown, the man who seemed minorly suspicious of Buttigiegs sparkling resum. It seems the younger the candidate, the older the crowd.

Buttigieg hasnt officially declared his White House run yet but an appearance at a CNN town hall in early March has been credited with fuelling his rapid rise. After an accomplished performance, he raised $600,000 in 24 hours. A few days later he announced he had received more than 65,000 individual donations, enough for a place in the first debate in June. At the end of March Buttigieg came third in a poll of likely Iowa voters albeit a poll with a large margin of error. His husband, Chasten Buttigieg, whose very mention prompted big cheers in Manchester, has become something of a celebrity in his own right.

But as Buttigiegs profile rises, things are likely to become more difficult. He might have that polished resum, but included in there is his stint working for McKinsey and Company, a consulting firm recently named in a lawsuit against Purdue Pharma, the makers of the painkiller OxyContin. According to the Massachusetts attorney general, McKinsey advised Purdue Pharma on how to turbocharge sales of the drug, which is widely seen as having played a major role in the opioid crisis in the US.

McKinseys clients have also included the Saudi Arabian government and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, an agency some Democrats have promised to abolish. While Buttigieg speaks seven languages he taught himself Norwegian after becoming enamoured with the author Erlend Loe he will have to work on his defense of his consulting work.

I never did anything that I couldnt stand by, my specialty was in grocery prices, but I also worked on renewable energy, Buttigieg said when the Guardian asked about his time at McKinsey.

I did good work for our clients at the firm, I worked with good people. Its certainly unfortunate some of the decisions that that firm has made, but Ill leave it to the firm to answer for those choices, especially on things they made when I wasnt working there.

Sprinting a marathon

Buttigieg may also struggle as people figure out where he fits in this huge Democratic field. Hes young and gay and describes himself as a progressive. But Clinton said she was progressive in 2016 and people at Buttigieg’s rallies dont see him as a liberal firebrand. The person who won here last time was exactly that.

Buttigieg browses. Photograph: Mary Schwalm/Reuters

Bernie Sanders, the Democratic socialist senator from Vermont, won the New Hampshire primary with 60.1% of the vote to Clintons 37.6%, backed by a swell of engaged, digital-savvy young voters.

Sanders is running again, as are others on the left. At least this weekend, voters interested in Buttigieg, as well as being older, seemed more centrist-minded, a space also occupied by big hitters like Harris, Cory Booker and probably Joe Biden.

[Buttigieg] is extremely articulate and very clear, said Ricia McMahon, a former New Hampshire state representative from North Sutton. He was really great tonight.

Brown, 74, who said Buttigieg was younger than my youngest son, wasnt ready to pledge her support yet, having already seen or met six candidates. But if Buttigieg can win the support of people like her it will give him a boost. Brown is a member of Ladies Left of Center, a group of 180 women who will organize around preferred candidates in the run up to the February primary.

What is undeniable is that Buttigieg has made an incredible start. He is planning to use that fundraising boom to hire staff in key states Iowa and New Hampshire vote in early February and 10 states will vote on Super Tuesday, 3 March while retaining a lean operation, he said in Concord.

The main problem Buttigieg will face is that many of his rivals are still better known nationally, and some have been preparing for years.

Biden has run for president twice and spent eight years as VP. Harris, Booker, Warren, Amy Klobuchar and Kirsten Gillibrand are senators, as is Bernie Sanders, a phenomenon who seems to have retained much of his supporters enthusiasm. Theres also ORourke, formerly a congressman and a formidable campaigner, and Jay Inslee and John Hickenlooper, the former governor of Washington state, the latter a former governor of Colorado.

Buttigieg, a keen jogger, said on Saturday the race for the nomination will be like sprinting a marathon.

It might be that Buttigieg is sprinting a marathon littered with obstacles, where crowd support is crucial and, most importantly, where he is up against a lot of sharp-elbowed competitors.

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