WATERLOO, Iowa — With little more than a week to go until Feb. 3, when the first 2020 Democratic presidential race votes will be cast in caucuses across Iowa, it is time to finally examine the most talked about presidential candidate in the Hawkeye state since campaigning began in early 2019 — former South Bend, Ind., mayor Pete Buttigieg.

I traveled across Iowa observing Buttigieg as he made his case to voters — at a union hall in Waterloo, at a corn feed in Cedar Rapids, in a packed barn in Iowa City, in front of tens of thousands of people at events in Des Moines — and also met and interviewed him one-on-one, in hopes of answering some questions people may have about the 38-year-old from Indiana who is battling Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders to win Iowa.

How do you pronounce his name? Say the following quickly: Buddha-Jedge. But don’t worry too much about it. As Buttigieg told the crowd in Waterloo: “My name is Pete Buttigieg, and where I come from, they just call me Mayor Pete.”

He is gay and a veteran. Does he tout these things on the campaign trail?

Yes, Buttigieg is gay and married his husband, Chasten, in 2018. This isn’t a key component of his speeches, but he doesn’t shy away from the topic either. He told the Des Moines Register, “It’s not the only thing that defines me. What I try to do is just be who I am. I don’t know who else to be.”

And yes, he was in the U.S. Navy Reserve from 2009-2017 and served a seven-month tour in Afghanistan in 2014. He usually mentions his service when he talks about American values. In Cedar Rapids, he said, “The flag that was on my shoulder when I stepped off the C-17 that got me to Afghanistan was a flag that represents a country that honors those who criticize our leaders and never questions their loyalty.”

In November in Des Moines, he mentioned both his sexuality and veteran status when he outlined his optimistic vision of the United States: “I have seen what America can do. After all, you are looking at someone who as a young man growing up wondered if something deep inside of him meant that he would forever be an outsider, would never wear the uniform, never be accepted, never know love. And now you are looking at that same young man, a veteran, a mayor, happily married, asking for your vote for president.”

What does Buttigieg talk about most in his speeches? Buttigieg talks about a number of issues that largely fall in the “center” lane of Democratic politics, such as fighting climate change and wanting a “Medicare for All Who Want It” program that allows for a public option for universal health care. On gun law reform, he told me, “We need universal background checks, we need red flag laws that disarm domestic abusers. We can honor the Second Amendment and still have some common sense here.” He also wants to scuttle the Electoral College and look into changing how Supreme Court justices are chosen.

However, Buttigieg spends most of his time talking about values and faith. In Waterloo, he said, “We’ve got to get in touch with our deepest values. These are not conservative values, they are American values with progressive implications.” He gave the example of freedom. “I hear conservatives say that the way to freedom is to cut taxes on the rich and cut regulations and do away with labor and we’ll be free, right? There’s a whole lot of things besides government that make people unfree. You’re not free if you don’t have health care in this country. And you know what else is part of how we get freedom? It’s through the benefit of education.”

Buttigieg talks about faith more than any other Democratic candidate. In Cedar Rapids, he said, “Faith can point you in a very different direction than where the White House is trying to take us today. Faith that commands us to concern ourselves with the well-being of the marginalized, faith that calls us to feed the hungry and feed the sick, faith that calls us to welcome the stranger. And yes, stranger is a synonym for immigrant.”

When pressed on the issue after his speech, Buttigieg explained, “I’ve just seen too many people under a sort of spell that says if you’re motivated by faith, that means you’re conservative. But after electing a president who has been characterized by every personality trait that Scripture counsels against, I think it has a lot of people of faith wondering if there isn’t a different home for them politically.”

Is Buttigieg really such a nice guy or is it a big act? Buttigieg’s earnestness and politeness seem to be real. Iowans walk away after meeting him saying he’s the nicest politician they’ve ever met. After I asked him a question, he thanked me for asking it. At the Cedar Rapids Corn Feed, the temperature was over 100 degrees. He started his speech by saying, “Everyone hydrating OK? Just making sure, because my mom always said if you’re thirsty, it’s too late.”

For Buttigieg, niceness, calmness and politeness are key aspects of his appeal. In Cedar Rapids, he also told us, “It’s about having a different tone and a different style. And people are ready for something different.” In Des Moines on Nov. 1, he told the large crowd, “We already have a divider-in-chief. I am offering a White House that you can look at on the news and can feel your blood pressure go down a little instead of going through the roof. We will fight when we must fight, but I will never allow us to get so wrapped up in the fighting that we start to think fighting is the point.”

Buttigieg has a simple theory of American elections that he thinks he will benefit from: "The American people tend to choose the opposite of what they just had, and I would argue that it doesn’t get more opposite from the current president than a laid-back, intellectual, gay, veteran, millennial mayor from the Midwest!"

Can Buttigieg win Iowa? Here’s what he told me: "We’ve got to build the ground game to match the national attention. We have the right message and messenger. Now we’ve got to organize and bring it all the way to the finish line." Or, as he said on a September morning in Des Moines: "Iowa, lead us away from the horror show, the reality show. Pick up the remote and change the channel to something better. That is in your hands."