'Mayor Pete' is having a moment — but does he have a chance?

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What’s happening? Democratic presidential candidate “Mayor Pete” Buttigieg has captured the national spotlight, but does he have a chance to make it to the White House?

Buttigieg (pronounced Boot-edge-edge) is the latest to join the crowded Democratic field for a 2020 presidential run. As mayor of South Bend, Ind., he is his state’s first openly gay executive official and has been hailed for overseeing a major revitalization of the Midwestern city, which had experienced decades of decline. Since he took office, South Bend has attracted new development and increased its population. Unemployment is down and wages are up, according to a report by Indiana University. Despite those accomplishments, Buttigieg — an Afghan war veteran and Rhodes scholar — will still need to convince voters that his success in transforming South Bend will translate into effective leadership skills to run the country.

Why he’s making news: The 37-year-old Democrat — who came out and married his husband after being elected mayor — went from relatively unknown to “the one to watch” after a CNN town hall in March. Buttigieg is the youngest candidate currently running and has been praised by Democrats — and, surprisingly, also by some prominent conservative Republicans — as “nice and refreshing.”

While many of his policy positions are still relatively unknown to Democratic voters, his résumé isn’t: Harvard graduate, Rhodes scholar, naval intelligence officer, openly gay Episcopalian married to a man, fluent in eight languages. And now he can add one more achievement: magazine cover model dubbed “Wonder Boy.”

Historical impact may also be a factor for a rise in his popularity: If he wins the Democratic nomination, and ultimately the general election, he would become America’s first openly gay president.

What’s next? Buttigieg’s ascent in the polls and growing name recognition could point to a growing number of millennials getting involved in politics.

But critics have pointed out that the small-city mayor’s positions on national and international issues are not fully baked — especially in contrast to more seasoned, better-known competitors like Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris. Cash flow, however, doesn’t seem to be a big problem for him. In the first fundraising quarter, Buttigieg raised over $7 million — more money than Warren.

Buttigieg also faces homophobia and attacks by some on the religious right. At a recent rally in Iowa, antigay protesters shouted “Sodom and Gomorrah” during his speech. “The good news is, the condition of my soul is in the hands of God, but the Iowa caucuses are up to you,” Buttigieg responded.

Meanwhile, on Fox News, hosts claim the mainstream media have fallen for Buttigieg and say he appears to be the “new Obama.” That isn’t stopping Buttigieg, however, from attempting to engage directly with the network’s conservative audience. He is in talks with Fox to appear at a televised town hall forum.


Why Americans love ‘Mayor Pete’: More governing, less virtue-signaling.

“Buttigieg’s secret is that he transcends many of the tensions that run through our society in a way that makes people on all sides feel comfortable. … he’s a progressive on policy issues, but he doesn’t sound like an angry revolutionary. Buttigieg’s policy positions are not all that different from the more identifiable leftist candidates. But he eschews grand ideological conflict. … But maybe that’s Buttigieg — he squares a lot of circles. He deftly detaches progressive policy positions from the culture war. He offers change without Sturm und Drang.” — David Brooks, New York Times

Buttigieg is attracting praise — from conservatives.

“Keep a sharp eye out for Mayor Pete. Keep an eye on this guy. He is gonna make mincemeat of all the rest of these people. When his time comes to face these people in debate, if he gets that far, keep an eye on Mayor Pete of South Bend. It’s all I’m gonna say. This guy was articulate for what he believes. He was personable. He had an answer for everything. … there was no radicalism. Some things that he believes about Trump are typically crazy, but keep an eye out for Mayor Pete. He’s 37. Keep an eye out for Mayor Pete.” —Rush Limbaugh, The Rush Limbaugh Show

“Republicans should start paying attention to Mayor Pete Buttigieg. He may be the unknown outsider who grows into authenticity.” — Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Twitter

“As the Buttigieg buzz continues to grow, some of the president’s GOP advocates have started to launch attacks at the Democratic wild-card candidate — perhaps a sign that they aren’t completely ruling out his chances.” — Katie Galioto, Politico

He’s actually a tortured libertarian.

“And while his fellow presidential aspirants are pandering to the lowest common denominator, promising the world and ignoring constitutional impediments, Pete Buttegieg is talking about ideas. Among them, the very concept of liberty itself. … Buttegieg is a thoughtful politician, and his intellectual journey seems to have led him halfway to small government libertarianism.” — Noah Rothman, Commentary

He’s changing the conversation on the notion of a gay president.

“It is striking how much attitudes have changed in just the last decade and a half toward the idea of a gay president. … This is social change at warp speed. … Buttigieg’s candidacy — and the way in which he has chosen to speak about his homosexuality and air his own internal struggles to grapple with what it meant (and means) to him — is the next logical step in society’s changing views of being gay. Even if he doesn’t wind up as the Democratic nominee in 2020, Buttigieg’s candidacy will be one for the history books.” — Chris Cillizza, CNN

He’s helping to open houses of worship to the LGBT community.

“Mr. Buttigieg’s popularity demonstrates the appetite for a mainstream narrative of religion beyond reflexive associations with social conservatism. But it also signals the budding of a queerer soul of this society. The L.G.B.T. community increasingly is finding a home in houses of faith.” — Episcopal priest Steven Paulikas, New York Times

After Obama, Democrats need a new theory of change.

“But these ideas require the power to implement them, and Democrats currently lack even that. What are the candidates’ theories of party building, such that they’re likelier to have the congressional allies necessary to make these kinds of changes? How would they approach governing if Republicans hold the Senate, as is the likeliest 2020 outcome? We are better at discussing what candidates want to do than how they will do it. That hole in our political vocabulary matters, as it makes it hard to debate the core question of any political campaign: How will the candidates actually make real people’s lives better?” — Ezra Klein, Vox

What mother wouldn’t love this guy?

“Sick of old people? He looks like Alex P. Keaton. Scared of young people? He looks like Alex P. Keaton. Religious? He’s a Christian. Atheist? He’s not weird about it. Wary of Washington? He’s from flyover country. Horrified by flyover country? He has degrees from Harvard and Oxford. Make the President Read Again? He learned Norwegian to read Erlend Loe. Traditional? He’s married. Woke? He’s gay.” — Olivia Nuzzi, New York magazine

How do his claims of South Bend as “turnaround city” stack up?

“[Buttigieg] spent tens of millions of dollars to spark a rebirth in what had been a dying downtown. Now, unemployment is down and the city’s population is slowly rising after decades of decline. There’s been criticism, too, including that South Bend’s redevelopment could be leading to gentrification. He’s also tangled in the city’s costliest court battle ever, in which his administration is fighting the release of illegally made recordings of police officers’ phone conversations that news reports have described as racially charged. … Not everyone thinks everything has gone smoothly, but according to IndyStar interviews with local government officials, political experts, neighborhood activists, business leaders and tourism officials, Buttigieg has South Bend headed in the right direction.” — Chris Sikich, Indianapolis Star

There’s just one thing missing — positions on major issues.

“There’s only one element missing from Buttigieg’s potentially meteoric campaign: positions on major issues. That’s not an accident. He says voters aren’t looking for policy papers. They care about values and character, and knowing that a candidate cares about their lives. … Will that be enough for primary voters, who often have favorite issues and want to pin each candidate down? Probably not.” — Doyle McManus, Los Angeles Times

Effective mayor with a blind spot.

“Buttigieg’s singular focus on gathering data and improving statistics has also led him astray at times. … Throughout his tenure as mayor, Buttigieg’s fixation on measurable goals at times led him to overlook weaknesses in his policies and concerns among his constituents. His initiatives may have achieved their targets, but they also ended up harming his city’s most vulnerable residents.” — Michael Hobbes, HuffPost

The religious right, the religious left and the elections.

“A gay mayor from Vice President Pence’s home state who wrote a Harvard thesis on the Puritans, Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg wants his party to embrace religion but not at the expense of excluding others. … Now Buttigieg wants a ‘less dogmatic’ religious left to counter the religious right, an unofficial coalition of religious conservatives that for decades has helped get mostly Republicans into office.” — Sarah Pulliam Bailey, Washington Post

Buttigieg offers politicized distortion of the Bible’s words and its silences.

“There is of course room for argument among people of good will, whether or not they are Christian, about the judgments that liberals have reached, as there is room for argument over conservative Christians’ beliefs about abortion. But the idea that unborn children deserve legal protection seems a better fit with the Christian emphasis on mercy than Buttigieg’s cavalier dismissal of it. Christians should in general be wary of claims that the faith points in a progressive direction, or in the direction of conservatism, libertarianism or any other political philosophy or ideology. No political party has ever fully captured the implications of Christianity, and we are not promised that one ever will. As such no earthly political party or ideology should ever command a Christian’s ultimate allegiance.” — Ramesh Ponnuru, Bloomberg

His abortion extremism hurts his religious appeal.

“Buttigieg’s religious arguments have triggered important online debates about the differences between mainline and Evangelical Christianity, about when religious teachings should influence public policy, and about how to interpret the history of the gay-marriage debate. But religious conservatives are not grappling with the key political question — whether any meaningful number of Evangelicals or conservative Catholics would cross the aisle to cast a ballot for Mayor Pete. The reason is simple. Buttigieg is a pro-choice extremist, and no pro-choice extremist will ever meaningfully compete for the conservative Christian vote.” — David French, National Review


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