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Mayor Pete Buttigieg formally kicks off historic White House bid |
Politics Election

Mayor Pete Buttigieg formally kicks off historic White House bid


Mayor Pete Buttigieg, an underdog in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary race who’s seen an uptick in support in recent weeks, formally entered the contest Sunday during an event in the city he leads.

“It is time to walk away from the politics of the past, and toward something totally different,” Buttigieg, 37, told thousands gathered inside a former Studebaker car assembly plant in South Bend, Ind. “My name is Pete Buttigieg. They call me Mayor Pete. I am a proud son of South Bend, Indiana. And I am running for president of the United States.”

The mayor is the 18th Democrat to officially declare a White House candidacy and would be the youngest and first openly gay U.S. president, if elected.

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. He’s held his current post since 2012 and oversees a northern Indiana community of about 102,000 people best known for the nearby University of Notre Dame.

Sunday’s gathering was originally scheduled to be held outside, but has been moved indoors because of a forecast for a late-season winter storm. Still, some of the weather followed indoors because of a leaky roof.

A Rhodes scholar who speaks seven languages, Buttigieg has sold himself as the polar opposite of President Trump. 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 Sen. 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.

Jack Beam, a Chicago lawyer who attended the kick-off event, said he’s financially contributed to Buttigieg 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 would 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.

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.

“Anyone in politics who lets the words Medicare for all escape their lips also has a responsibility to explain how we could actually get there,” Buttigieg said during a recent appearance on a CNN town hall. He added that a preferable path might be “a Medicare for all who want it set up.”

An Episcopalian who often quotes scripture, Buttigieg married his husband, Chasten, a junior high school teacher, in a church service in June.

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.

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