DECORAH, Iowa—On a cold night in a small town, a man had a question for Pete Buttigieg, the first openly gay candidate with a serious shot at the American presidency. How, he wanted to know, would Buttigieg deal with leaders of foreign countries where it’s still illegal to be gay? Buttigieg, dressed as he almost always is in brown shoes and blue slacks and a plain white shirt with the sleeves rolled up, stood in the center of a stage surrounded by more than a thousand people who had packed into the gymnasium of the high school. Buttigieg gripped the hand-held mic and took a few steps forward.

“Sooooo,” he said, drawing out the syllable and the suspense, “they’re going to have to get used to it.”

Those 10 words, tough, almost defiant, elicited a response unlike anything else I witnessed trailing the ascendant Buttigieg on a pair of boisterous recent campaign swings. The sound started with a release of anxious laughter, followed by a hitch of surprise, before giving way to clapping and whistling and shouts and cheers that got only louder as what he had said sank in. It took nearly 30 seconds for the noise to subside.

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