Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg tests 2020 presidential waters

December 21, 2018 GMT

DES MOINES, Iowa Pete Buttigieg could check off a number of “firsts” as a president first gay man, first post-Sept. 11 veteran, first millennial but he says it’ll take more than that to win Democrats’ nomination.

The 36-year-old mayor of South Bend, Indiana, was in Iowa on Thursday sussing out the appetite for such a bid, and said he’s fully aware of the challenge he faces rising from local official to major-party presidential nominee.

“To put it in historical terms, Obama is interesting because he is young, because he is black, you know profile-wise. But he wins because he is capable of inspiring people and turns out to be very good on the stump in a debate and the message also worked,” Mr. Buttigieg told The Washington Times.


Mr. Buttigieg test drove his message later in the day at a Progress Iowa holiday party that attracted 250 activists and featured other possible presidential contenders Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Rep. Eric Swalwell of California and businessman Andrew Yang, who announced he is running.

At that gathering, he said the nation’s freedom, security and values are being tested.

“The moment is crying out for us to make deep and lasting change to the way our country works before it is too late,” Mr. Buttigieg said. “We can’t just nimble around the edges. We can’t just polish off a system so broken that many people we know in this part of the country went to the polls in 2016 with their eyes wide open and voted to burn the house down.”

“We can’t go back,” he said. “It is a season for boldness and a focus on the future.”

He also made the rounds, meeting with top Democrats, including Troy Price, chair of Iowa Democrats, Matt Paul, a veteran of Hillary Clinton’s campaign, and union leaders.

With the 2020 nomination race expected to draw a massive field, the Democratic National Committee announced Thursday that it has penciled in a dozen debates, and they plan on keeping the threshold low for the opening two showdowns in hopes of leveling the playing field.

Mr. Buttigieg said he thinks the DNC has been “bending over backwards to be fair” after facing intense scrutiny over the way it handled the 2016 primary between former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernard Sanders. And he hopes to benefit from the wide-open nature of the race.

“It lends itself to some new figures or underdog figures gaining a lot of attention if they can hold their own in the field,” he said.

Mr. Buttigieg said he views himself as a progressive liberal, has governed in a pragmatic way, and thinks the party must do a better job of letting people know how their policies will affect their lives in concrete terms.


On issues, he said it is time to address “climate security,” and develop a “new liberal internationalism that is neither isolationist or overly muscular.”

He’s open to an immigration fix that protects Dreamers, immigrants who crossed illegally into the U.S. as children and offers permanent status to millions of other immigrants in the U.S. without permission, coupled with some border security.

And he expressed support for a Medicare-for-All plan for universal government-sponsored health care, though he said he would settle for less.

“I am not like dogmatic about it, so if the near-term answer is Medicare for more, I think that could be smart,” he said.

Mr. Buttigieg splashed onto the national scene in 2017 when he ran for DNC chair under the banner “New Leadership. Fresh Start” casting himself as an outsider with an understanding of Midwest red-state voters who boosted President Trump in 2016.

He withdrew from the race before the final vote, but not before earning support of former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, who led the DNC from 2005 to 2009.

“I think he is incredibly principled,” Mr. Dean told The Times this week. “He is the perfect millennial candidate.”

“The problem for him is there are going to probably 10 great millennial candidates running this year and who is going to raise the money and who is going to get the attention?” Mr. Dean said.

Mr. Buttigieg is well aware of those challenges, but thinks that donors will be willing to finance more than one candidate early on the race and that his mayoral experience could help separate him from some of his rivals that work in Washington.

“You learn a lot of relevant things that you can’t learn in a legislative role,” he said. “I have literally had moments that within an hour I go from a disagreement over who is going to be Santa at the tree lighting to an officer-involved shooting.”

Sean Bagniewski, chair of the Polk County Iowa Democrats, said lesser-known candidates like Mr. Buttigieg don’t have much to lose from putting themselves in national spotlight.

“I don’t know Indiana politics very well, but I doubt he is going to run and win for senator or for governor, it doesn’t sound like a lot of Democrats are going to win those offices out there, so might as well run for president, everybody else is, and build a national name for yourself,” Mr. Bagniewski said. “Maybe you will get lucky and be the nominee, or maybe you are a Cabinet secretary of something else.”