Is Pete Buttigieg the future of the Democratic Party?
Pete Buttigieg is the mayor of South Bend, Indiana. It’s not exactly the traditional launch pad for a presidential campaign, but Buttigieg would hardly be a traditional president.
On Wednesday morning, the 37-year-old mayor announced he had formed a presidential exploratory committee, joining an already-cramped Democratic primary field with Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and Kamala Harris (D-CA), as well as Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), and Julian Castro, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary under President Obama. Former Rep. John Delaney (D-MD), former West Virginia state Sen. Richard Ojeda, and former tech executive Andrew Yang are also running.
I launched a presidential exploratory committee because it is a season for boldness and it is time to focus on the future. Are you ready to walk away from the politics of the past?
— Pete Buttigieg (@PeteButtigieg) January 23, 2019
Buttigieg (pronounded “Boot-uh-judge”) has served two terms as South Bend mayor, and, if elected, would be the first openly gay president of the United States. In his announcement video, however, it was his youth rather than his sexual orientation that he focused on.
“I belong to a generation that is stepping forward right now,” he said in an announcement video posted to Twitter early Wednesday morning. “We’re the generation that lived through school shootings, that served in the wars after 9/11, and we’re the generation that stands to be the first to make less than our parents unless we do something different.”
He adds, “We can’t just polish off a system so broken. It is a season for boldness and a focus on the future.”
Buttigieg is a former Rhodes scholar and Afghanistan veteran, and in 2017, he ran unsuccessfully for Democratic National Committee (DNC) chair. He endorsed former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for president in 2016, but he’s been open about her shortcomings.
“I organized a Union Hall event for her in South Bend,” he told the Washington Post Magazine. “You could just tell the enthusiasm wasn’t there. We need a bigger scope of ambition for people to rally around.”
As the Post story also noted, Buttigieg hesitates to label himself, though pressed to do so, he calls himself a “progressive Democrat.” But for now, at least, his campaign is light on the specifics. As of Thursday morning, his 2020 website does not have an “issues” page, and he has not openly endorsed Medicare for all.
He did, however, respond to a tweet last year that accused him of not supporting the single-payer system with, “Buh? When/where have you ever heard me oppose Medicare for All?”
Buh? When/where have you ever heard me oppose Medicare for All?
— Pete Buttigieg (@PeteButtigieg) February 17, 2018
At a press conference later Wednesday, Buttigieg said day one of launching an exploratory committee isn’t the time to fully articulate policy positions, but that he does support getting to a single-payer system.
In 2016, in an exit interview with The New Yorker, former President Barack Obama named Buttigieg, along with his fellow Democratic primary contender Harris, and Sens. Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Michael Bennet (D-CO), as some of the gifted young Democrats who comprise the party’s ailing bench.
Buttigieg, for his part, is pointing to his work revitalizing South Bend — where he’s served as mayor for eight years — as proof that Obama’s prediction was right.
“When I arrived in office at the beginning of this decade, the national press said that our city was dying,” he said in his announcement video this week. “People on the outside didn’t believe our city had a future. We propelled our city’s comeback by taking our eyes off the rearview mirror, being honest about change and insisting on a better future.”
And though he hasn’t focused much on the landmark nature of his run — he would be only one of two openly gay candidates to run for president, 2012 Republican candidate Fred Karger being the first — it’s a notable moment in history nonetheless.
In an interview with ThinkProgress, Elliot Imse, the senior director of communications for the LGBTQ Victory Fund, said that Buttigieg’s decision to explore a run as an openly gay man was, unto itself, a big step forward.
Seeing his campaign, Imse said, could be “transformative” for a young LGBTQ person still in the closet or an out LGBTQ person facing bullying.
“It really does signal to the community that we can achieve anything [and] everything,” he said.
Imse noted that Buttigieg’s decision not to make his sexual orientation central to his pitch to voters is a decision he understands. “We always tell LGBTQ candidates that they should be open and honest about their sexual orientation or gender identity, but it’s not going to win them elections,” Imse said. “[Buttigieg] needs to focus on the issues that resonate with Americans and not over-focus on sexual orientation or gender identity.”
Imse also said he is excited about the ways Buttigieg’s presence in the race can force other presidential contenders to really wrestle with their past stances on LGBTQ issues and make their platforms inclusive.
“Absolutely having an LGBTQ voice in the presidential race will change the way the Democratic primary plays out,” he said.