The out gay mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Pete Buttigieg, is gaining steam as a potential dark horse candidate in the 2020 presidential election — and he isn’t denying it, either.
Buttigieg, an Afghanistan War veteran who was first elected mayor in 2011, has decided not to run for re-election, though he remains mostly tight-lipped about the next step of his budding political career.
Buttigieg enhanced his national profile by running unsuccessfully for DNC Chair in 2017. He opted to withdraw from the race at the end when the choice came down to former Secretary of Labor Tom Perez, the eventual winner, and Minnesota Congressmember Keith Ellison, now the attorney general-elect of that state.
In the time since, Buttigieg has launched a political action committee and has plans to release a new book in February. According to CNN, he said, “I don’t think it’s a secret” that he could run for president, but he hasn’t spoken beyond that about his future.
The soon-to-be 37-year-old, who married Chasten Glezman earlier this year, has become accustomed to his name being tied to potential White House ambitions. In 2016, The New York Times profiled him with an article headlined “The First Gay President?”
Should he decide to enter the race, Buttigieg can expect to face an uphill battle against a crowded field of potential Democratic opponents who boast much larger national profiles. But the long list of names could also work to his advantage if no candidate emerges as the clear-cut frontrunner as the race heats up.
He also has a long history of campaigning in pivotal states like Iowa, where he canvassed as early as 2008 for Barack Obama, and he has since developed key relationships with political operatives such as David Axelrod, Obama’s former senior advisor, who attended Buttigieg’s wedding and called him “a very gifted guy in a very understated way,” according to the Indianapolis Monthly.
Buttigieg is widely viewed as a charismatic and well-rounded political figure, and part of his appeal is that he is progressive enough to cater to those in blue states but also can connect with rural conservative voters who range from churchgoers to fellow war veterans. In a profile with Indianapolis Monthly, he noted that he could find common ground with evangelical voters through his Episcopalian faith.
Indiana Congressmember Jim Banks, a Republican, offered praise from across the aisle when he expressed admiration for Buttigieg and suggested that Democrats would “be wise to look to leaders like him and believe that he has a lot to offer.”
“I’ve seen him portray himself as mayor in more of a moderate approach, but now that he’s talking about national politics, it’s more ideological, further to the left,” Banks said.
Indeed among the issues he’s recently raised, Buttigieg has discussed a universal basic income, campaigned to raise the minimum wage in South Bend, and voiced his support for Medicare for All.
“I do favor Medicare for All, as I do favor any measure that would help get all Americans covered,” he said in a Tweet in February.
Buttigieg will continue to serve out the remainder of his current term, which will conclude in just over a year. It is not yet clear whether he has an alternative option on deck if he does not run for president, but for now, his next stop is Iowa, where he is slated to speak at the Progress Iowa holiday party on December 20.