Opinion | Don’t discount Mayor Pete


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Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Indiana, has thrown his hat in the race for the 2020 presidential election.

By Devi Ruia, Staff Columnist

There’s a good chance that you hadn’t heard of Pete Buttigieg before this year — the average person can’t be expected to know the mayor of South Bend, Indiana. Buttigieg — or Mayor Pete, as he is known in South Bend — announced in January that he was launching a presidential exploratory committee.

Since then, Buttigieg has launched into the national arena. Many have said Buttigieg is inexperienced. After all, he is by far the youngest person running, and at 37 years old he has never held a national political office. But despite his youth, Buttigieg has an impressive resumé and shouldn’t be discounted in the 2020 race.

He is a Rhodes Scholar, a Harvard graduate, proficient in seven languages other than English, a skilled pianist and an Afghanistan War veteran. We are at a point right now in politics where experience may be important, but it isn’t the be-all and end-all in determining a candidate’s validity in seeking political office — even the office of the president. Buttigieg brings an impressively diverse resumé to the table, and he has gained important traction with voters in recent weeks.

A new Democratic primary poll released Thursday by Quinnipiac University has Buttigieg tied for fifth place among Democrats and those that lean Democratic, with Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. While he is still only polling at 4% with Democratic primary voters, he’s above Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Cory Booker, D-N.J. This may just be one early poll, but it’s significant for Buttigieg, as he came into this race with very little experience or name recognition and is now holding his own in polls with well-known senators.

Buttigieg has been almost everywhere in recent weeks — everywhere meaning all over TV and Twitter. He’s been doing interviews and meeting celebrities such as Mandy Moore, who even donated to his campaign. Despite his increased presence, Buttigieg is still getting less media coverage than most of his fellow 2020 candidates, according to analysis by Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight. Buttigieg’s increase in the polls and his rise in Google search interest can therefore be credited more to his genuine appeal to voters than to media coverage.

Buttigieg isn’t deeply entrenched in the politics of D.C. and he doesn’t have any looming skeletons in his closet. He may have no national experience, but this is part of his draw, as his lack of time on the national stage means he doesn’t have the baggage of some of the candidates that have been in the public eye for years.

“He is the one candidate … Everyone who interacts with him is blown away,” NBC political correspondent Kasie Hunt said about Buttigieg, according to a tweet by Lis Smith, Buttigieg’s communications adviser.

Buttigieg is subverting expectations of his candidacy by just being himself. Many comment on his persona — he comes across as intelligent and unrehearsed, an authentic politician in a time when many voters don’t feel like such a person exists.

Not only does Buttigieg have an appealing personality, he has good policy ideas. While, like nearly all of his opponents, he has yet to release a specific policy plan, he is open to ideas that include abolishing the electoral college, raising the minimum wage and nominating new Supreme Court justices to offset the current conservative majority. Buttigieg is also using his youth as an advantage in terms of policy.

“I think, you know, belonging to the generation as a millennial — I think I made the cut by a few weeks, being a millennial,” Buttigieg said in an interview with Dan Pfeiffer, a former senior adviser to former President Barack Obama, on the political podcast Pod Save America. “But I do feel like I belong to the school shooting generation. You know, I was in high school when Columbine happened, the generation that is going to be dealing with things like climate change for the rest of our lives.”

Buttigieg has made what he calls intergenerational justice a core piece of his campaign, including taking long-term issues like climate change as seriously as short-term ones like Senate filibuster reform. Using his personal connection as a member of the generation that is going to be most affected by a lot of the long-term policies that our next president will help shape is a smart move on Buttigieg’s part.

Millennials and members of Generation Z — the generation most current Pitt students are a part of — will make up 37% of the eligible electorate in 2020. This group is projected to be the most diverse and best-educated generation, and skews liberal. The key to winning the Democratic primary could very well be the millennial and Gen Z vote. Buttigieg is already doing a great job of tapping into it, not only by drawing on his personal connections to issues that this demographic cares about, but through Twitter.

Whether you agree with its importance or not, Twitter is going to play a role in the 2020 election, especially with younger voters. Many people on Twitter, qualified and unqualified, comment on politics and a lot of people form opinions and get their information from the site. Buttigieg is becoming beloved on Twitter, but this is more due to his husband’s Twitter game than his own.

Chasten Buttigieg, Pete Buttigieg’s husband, is earning praise for his funny and earnest look at what it’s like to be the spouse of someone running for office — not to mention blessing the public with lots of dog pictures and a look at what Hogwarts house his husband belongs in. This is gaining him attention from many on Twitter and making Mayor Pete more popular as a result, especially in the past couple of weeks.

While this could seem like only a fleeting moment in the spotlight for Buttigieg, it may very well be more than that. Buttigieg revealed Monday that his campaign had raised more than $7 million in the first fundraising quarter. Other candidates have raised more in even less time, but they came into the race with established donor lists and name recognition that Buttigieg lacks.

“We (you) are outperforming expectations at every turn,” he tweeted on Monday.

And his campaign is doing exactly that. Even if Buttigieg doesn’t win the Democratic nomination — and he does face many more obstacles to winning than most candidates — he has still no doubt raised his national profile. He is a politician to watch, whether he wins the nomination or not. Either way, he should be taken seriously by 2020 voters.