Mayor Pete Buttigieg, an underdog in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary race who’s seen an uptick in support in recent weeks, called for a new generation of American leadership as he became the 18th candidate to formally join the fold.
Speaking from a building with ties to America’s industrial past that’s now being re-purposed to house technology companies and other jobs of the future, the 37-year-old sold himself as unique in a field crowded with Washington lawmakers and longtime politicians.
“It is time to walk away from the politics of the past, and toward something totally different,” Buttigieg told thousands gathered inside a former Studebaker car assembly plant in South Bend, Indiana.
The mayor, who has overseen that city since 2012, would be the youngest and first openly gay U.S. president, if elected. His northern Indiana community of about 102,000 people is best known for the nearby University of Notre Dame.
In a 36-minute speech, Buttigieg drew a strong contrast with President Donald Trump, suggesting there hasn’t been enough honest discussion about the need to transform the nation’s economy. He also questioned the president’s “Make America Great Again” slogan from 2016, now emblazoned on millions of baseball caps.
‘Resentment and Nostalgia’
“There is a myth being sold to industrial and rural communities: the myth that we can stop the clock and turn it back,” Buttigieg said. “It comes from people who think the only way to reach communities like ours is through resentment and nostalgia, selling an impossible promise of returning to a bygone era that was never as great as advertised to begin with. The problem is, they’re telling us to look for greatness in all the wrong places.”
Buttigieg also challenged the president’s immigration policy.
“There’s a lot more to security than putting up a wall from sea to shining sea,” he said. “Children fleeing violence ought to have nothing to fear from the greatest country in the world.”
Buttigieg said he recognizes the “audacity” of his candidacy, given his youth and that he’s a just a “Midwestern millennial” mayor. But the need for new solutions and Trump’s presidency encouraged him to run, he said.
“The forces changing our country today are tectonic,” he said. “Forces that help to explain what made this current presidency even possible. That’s why, this time, it’s not just about winning an election — it’s about winning an era.”
With a name that’s challenging to pronounce (boot-edge-edge, or Buddha-judge as the candidate’s husband has suggested), Buttigieg has been traveling through early primary and caucus states and sitting for just about any television interview he can find.
A Rhodes scholar who speaks seven languages, Buttigieg has sold himself as Trump’s polar opposite. He’s reported raising about $7 million during the first quarter, a total that puts him roughly in the middle of the pack among those who have shared numbers ahead of Monday’s Federal Election Commission disclosure deadline.
Recent polls in the first two states that will hold Democratic nomination contests early next year — Iowa and New Hampshire — showed a surge in support for Buttigieg, even as former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont remain the front-runners.
A Monmouth University Poll of Iowa Democratic voters released on April 11 shows Biden, who’s expected to enter the race this month, with the support of 27 percent of those who say they’re likely to attend the state’s caucuses in February. He’s followed by Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, at 16 percent. Buttigieg ranked third at 9 percent, outperforming a slew of U.S. senators and other hopefuls.
Meanwhile, a poll by the Saint Anselm College Survey Center at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics showed similar results, with Biden at 23 percent, Sanders at 16 percent and Buttigieg at 11 percent.
Buttigieg has suggested his strengths as a potential Democratic nominee include executive experience running a city, his military background — he served eight years in the Navy Reserve, including a stint as an intelligence officer in Afghanistan — and growing up in solidly Republican Indiana, albeit in a college town that last had a GOP mayor in 1972.
‘Off the Charts’
Jack Beam, a Chicago lawyer who attended the kick-off event, said he’s donated money to Buttigieg’s campaign and considers him his favorite candidate in the crowded field. “I think he’s off the charts for sincerity,” he said.
Beam said he suspects that “45 percent of the country won’t like that he’s gay,” but that Buttigieg’s military background and comfort with speaking about his Christian faith may help him compete against Trump in a general election. “They’d have to work harder to throw mud at him,” he said.
Watching Buttigieg’s announcement online, David Axelrod, former President Barack Obama’s strategist, said on Twitter that while the crowd seemed large and impressive, it was also dominated by whites — “an obstacle he will have to overcome” at a time the party has a historically diverse field of 2020 candidates.
“He will need to build out his coalition in a very diverse party,” Axelrod said in another tweet.
Stance on Issues
Buttigieg supports some of the progressive proposals that have surfaced in the Democratic primary race, such as expanding the Supreme Court and doing away with the Electoral College. But he’s kept some distance from others, such as “Medicare for all” and a guaranteed income for the working class.
An Episcopalian who often quotes scripture, Buttigieg married his husband, Chasten, a junior high school teacher, in a church service in June featured in the New York Times “Vows” section.
Pointing to South Bend’s crime and urban blight, Republicans sought to tarnish Buttigieg’s image as mayor.
“Pete Buttigieg talks a good game, but the facts of his failed leadership in South Bend will eventually catch up with the hysteria surrounding his candidacy,” Kyle Hupfer, chairman of the Indiana Republican Party, said in a statement ahead of Sunday’s event.