South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg has become the latest Democrat to announce an exploratory committee for a 2020 presidential run. You’re forgiven for never having heard of him, and you also have a grace period to learn how to spell his last name.
Despite his obscurity and orthographic shortcomings, he will not be a totally irrelevant candidate. He’s had some buzz for quite some time. South Bend’s boss throughout his 30s, he was already a pretty young mayor; when he took office in 2012 he was the youngest mayor of an American city with at least 100,000 people. Now just 37, he’s barely Constitutionally eligible for the presidency, but that can make him an alluring choice for young people. He’s also openly gay, a fact which once would have once doomed his candidacy, but now, in the Democratic Primary anyway, it can raise his profile.
Paired with the aesthetics is some substance. When the Rhodes Scholar took office in 2012, South Bend was identified by Newsweek as one of America’s “10 dying cities.” He has since led an economic revival — with a pit-stop in Afghanistan for a seven-month tour of duty. (So that’s Lieutenant Buttigieg to you.) In 2013, GovFresh, which celebrates “public servant innovators” and “civic entrepreneurs,” called Buttigieg the co-mayor of the year with Michael Bloomberg. In 2015, the city re-elected “Mayor Pete” with 80 percent of the vote. In 2017 he ran for chair of the Democratic Nomination Committee and became a dark horse candidate thanks to an impressive forum performance against the nationally known candidates, though he withdrew on voting day so as not to play spoiler. In August 2018, a Rolling Stone piece asked, “Could This 36-Year-Old Indiana Mayor Topple Trumpism?”
His strategy in this race is shaping up to be an interesting one: win all millennials. Noting the advanced age of the leading candidates — President Trump, Joe Biden, and Bernie Sanders are around their mid-70s (each around twice the age of Buttigieg!), and Elizabeth Warren turns 70 this year — he says now is the time for “intergenerational justice.” He notes that people in their 20s and 30s think more about the short-term impact of school shootings and War on Terror veterans and the long-term impact of climate change and the national debt. He thinks he’s the candidate to best understand and connect with this frustrated group.
Of course, the sobering reality is that this generation does not vote at the rate of older ones; even with a high-for-them 31 percent turnout, it still paled in comparison to the over 50 percent turnout of the general electorate. Buttigieg will need to compete in a field where huge Democratic names will attract most of the money, attention, and perception of viability, so he’s an election or two away. Go run for governor.
Mayor Pete’s odds to win the nomination: 25/1.
His planetary classification: Dwarf Planet