South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, a 37-year-old military veteran, is testing a 2020 presidential campaign, and reaction in early voting states has been increasingly positive (Joshua Lott)
Washington (AFP) – At just 37, Pete Buttigieg has deployed to Afghanistan, graduated from Harvard, learned seven languages and serves as mayor of a Midwestern American city.
Now the Millennial Renaissance man is seeking to become the first openly gay president of the United States — and the youngest — a longshot 2020 prospect whose odds appear to improve by the week.
When he began exploring a challenge to Donald Trump, few people outside his home city of South Bend, Indiana knew who the fresh-faced Democrat was, much less how to pronounce his name. (It’s “BOOT-edge-edge,” he says.)
Today he has catapulted himself into contention for his party’s nomination, a media darling who is suddenly omnipresent even though he has yet to officially declare his candidacy.
And he’s blazing his own path, with a balance of calm and confidence, passion and pragmatism, problem solving and intellectual ambition that has impressed at campaign stops in early voting states like Iowa and South Carolina.
The Buttigieg buzz on the ground has ramped up quickly, said Iowa Democratic Party chairman Troy Price.
“They like his campaign style, they like his message,” Price told AFP Tuesday.
“People here are very intrigued by him and they want to hear more about what he has to say.”
Buttigieg is relishing his breakout moment, fuelled by a star turn headlining a recent town hall that saw national interest in him skyrocket.
Bookish and smart, he doesn’t shy away from the charge that he’s too young and inexperienced to compete in this crowded and historically diverse field.
“I have more years of government experience under my belt than the president… and more military experience than anybody to walk into that office on day one since George H.W. Bush,” he said at the event broadcast by CNN.
“So I get that I’m the young guy in the conversation, but I would say experience is what qualifies me to have a seat at this table.”
In Iowa, Buttigieg surged from one percent support to 11 percent and third place in Emerson Polling’s survey released Sunday, behind former vice president Joe Biden and Senator Bernie Sanders and ahead of more prominent candidates like senators Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren.
He has shown he can raise all-important campaign donations, pulling in $600,000 in contributions in the 24 hours after his town hall.
– ‘Mayor Pete’ –
The man many people call “Mayor Pete” grew up in South Bend, a once thriving city whose economy imploded when auto giants like Studebaker closed their factories in the 1950s and 60s.
South Bend has clawed its way back, and the solution-oriented Buttigieg has been credited with revitalizing parts of downtown.
In 2016, as Hillary Clinton battled Trump, Buttigieg noticed a “fatal lack of enthusiasm” among working class voters in the heartland when it came to the Democratic message, and stresses his party must re-engage with disaffected Midwesterners who supported Trump.
“Our whole message was ‘Don’t vote for him, because he’s terrible.’ And even though he is, that’s not a message,” warned Buttigieg on “The Breakfast Club” radio show in New York.
“I hate to say it, but he could absolutely win again if we aren’t smart about this.”
As mayor, Buttigieg engaged repeatedly with Indiana’s then-governor Mike Pence, a religious conservative who is now Trump’s vice president.
He leveled withering criticism at his fellow Hoosier at the town hall.
“How could he allow himself to become the cheerleader of the porn-star presidency?” Buttigieg said. “Is it that he stopped believing in scripture when he started believing in Donald Trump?”
Buttigieg supports expanding health care coverage to all Americans, at first through allowing people to buy into Medicare, the federal health program for people age 65 and over.
He is a strong believer in labor unions and opposes Trump’s ban on transgender people serving in the military.
He wants the Electoral College scrapped, arguing it is undemocratic, and has suggested expanding the US Supreme Court to 15 justices.
Buttigieg, a Rhodes Scholar, came out as gay while running for re-election — and won with 80 percent of the vote.
As a lieutenant in the US Navy Reserves, he stepped away from his mayoral duties to serve seven months in Afghanistan as a counterintelligence officer.
He has positioned himself as a unifier after the divisive Trump era, and he made a light-hearted offer to strike a “peace deal” between the LGBT community and Chick-fil-A, the fast-food chain which courted controversy over its conservative leanings.
“I do not approve of their politics, but I kind of approve of their chicken,” Buttigieg quipped on the radio.
“Maybe, if nothing else, I can build that bridge.”
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