New Hampshire is a small state geographically (how do they even fit all those mountains in?) but a big state in national politics, being rightfully proud of its first-in-the-nation primaries. Which means, while presidential hopefuls might not make it to Maine, they will be two hours away from most of the southern half of the state.

On April 5, I went with my mother and sister to see Pete Buttigieg in Manchester, New Hampshire. Now, if you haven’t heard of him yet, you should know that he is the two-term, highly popular mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and his last name is pronounced “boot-edge-edge.” He’s openly gay and happily married, has two rescue dogs, served in Afghanistan, speaks several languages and is Episcopalian, like my family. He’s a millennial (like me), and he is running for president (unlike me).

I’d seen his news show appearances and his CNN town hall and was impressed by what I saw. I liked many of his policy ideas and, perhaps even more, his way of seeing the world, and his way of seeing problems as opportunities. I wanted to see what he was like in person. (Us short, gay millennials, we have to stick together, you know.)

We got to the Currier Museum of Art one hour ahead of the scheduled start time. The museum’s event space was already at capacity. This was a good sign for the campaign, if not the ideal experience for me. (They wouldn’t even let us in to use the bathroom. Fortunately, my mom met a kind stranger who lived two blocks away and who let us use her facilities. Thanks, Ginny! Thanks, Maud!) But although we were all outside, in the cold, and it started drizzling, nobody left. We all wanted to see Mayor Pete that badly.

I don’t know how he managed it, but when Pete Buttigieg arrived outside, he seemed to materialize at the center of the crowd before everyone noticed him, and all at once, we shrieked (especially me). “He’s a sneaky Pete!” my mom said with delight, until we realized we shouldn’t give President Trump any ideas for disparaging nicknames.

Mayor Pete spoke off the cuff a bit (improvising some jokes about the weather and the crowd), but he has a good, solid stump speech, and he knows how to deliver it – although technically, under the circumstances, it was a bench speech. Pete Buttigieg is an amazing speaker – his voice was deeper than it sounds on TV, and he has a rasping boom in the back of his throat. Excellent projection and enunciation – his husband, Chasten, is a junior high school drama teacher, and I have to wonder if he taught Pete some theater tricks. His eyes looked insanely blue, lit up by all the flash bulbs, and he managed to swivel continuously while speaking. The man has no bad angles, I swear.

He touched on a lot of topics that I care about – equal rights under the law, health care, cybersecurity (a problem area that will only get worse as the average of the Senate, in particular, ticks ever upward), job automation. Mom liked his talking about building intergenerational solidarity. But the thing that stuck out to my younger sister and me the most was when he talked about as our communities as currently being places that young people feel they need to leave in order to be successful in life.

I know that feeling deeply. I grew up always figuring l was going to leave Maine as soon as I graduated from high school. Fortunately (as you can see), I changed my mind and am still here, but I can’t stem our population decline by myself. Rural towns all over the country are draining as opportunity clusters in a few small areas. I’m sick of hearing “just move” as the solution. I want our leaders to make sure the American dream – opportunity – is available in every corner of the country.

I really wanted Mayor Pete to sign my purse copy of the United States Constitution (a purse necessity for every woman, along with Chapstick and hand sanitizer), but unfortunately, he was hustled off pretty quickly, and I didn’t want to be the crazy lady chasing down the candidate with a Constitution. I’m not too torn up about it, however, since I think I’ll get another chance. Pete Buttigieg is the kind of guy who keeps his promises, and he promised all of us in Manchester that he would be back in New Hampshire.

I don’t know yet who I will be voting for in the Democratic primaries. But I do know that I’ll be paying attention to Pete Buttigieg. It’s true that a 37-year-old from Indiana is a bit of a long shot for commander in chief. Mayor Pete’s an underdog. But I’m from New England, and if there’s one thing I know about New England, it’s that we love ourselves an underdog.

Victoria Hugo-Vidal is a Maine millennial. She can be contacted at:

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Twitter: mainemillennial