At an overflowing Studebaker Building in South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg kicked off his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination on Sunday calling for a “new generation” of political leadership in the U.S.
At 37, Buttigieg, known as “Mayor Pete” by supporters, has catapulted to the top tier of Democratic contenders in a short span of time, although the race to replace Donald Trump is far from the finish line.
A former Naval intelligence officer, war vet, and Harvard and Oxford grad, Buttigieg, as he has done in the past, focused almost entirely on narrative and democratic values in his personal pitch for the presidency, leaving specific policy proposals for later.
Republicans, particularly Trump, were frequent targets of the mayor’s characterization of a country clearly on the wrong track. Referring to the Trump mantra “Make America Great Again,” Buttigieg remarked that, “The problem is they’re telling us to look for greatness in all the wrong places.”
As the mayor of a city of only 102,000 people, Buttigieg acknowledged that a presidential run, along with his rapid rise to mainstream media coverage and increasing popularity as a candidate, is a bit audacious. But politics is personal, he said.
“I recognize the audacity of doing this as a Midwestern millennial mayor,” he said. “[It’s] more than a little bold at age 37 to seek the highest office in the land.”
Born in the early 1980s, Buttigieg said he grew up during the era of Reagan-style supply-side conservatism, but that the era “is now over.” As such, he said, his 2020 campaign isn’t just about winning an election, it’s “about winning an era.”
“We’re on one of those blank pages in between chapters,” he said.
Without policy proposals to explain, Buttigieg said his campaign—which raised $7 million in the first quarter of 2019—focuses on three principles: freedom, security, and democracy.
Freedom, he said, “does not belong to just one political party” and encompasses areas where he eventually will have to develop those policies, including healthcare, consumer protections, racial justice, empowering teachers, women’s equality, organized labor, and LGBTQ rights.
On security, Buttigieg said, “There is a lot more to safety and security than putting up a wall from sea to shining sea.”
He also criticized the Trump administration’s draconian tactic of stripping migrant children from their families and locking them up in cages.
“The greatest country in the world should have nothing to fear from children fleeing from violence,” he said. “Even more importantly, children fleeing violence ought to have nothing to fear from the greatest country in the world.”
He also noted that security means keeping Americans safe from the violence of white supremacy.
Climate change and climate disruption also fall into the realm of security, and Buttigieg called it “a life and death issue for our generation.”
On democracy, the mayor cited the threats of voter suppression, the Citizens United ruling, gerrymandering, lack of political representation in Washington, DC, and Puerto Rico, and a need to get rid of the electoral college, which he said had “overruled the American people” twice in his lifetime.
Buttigieg spoke about his family’s experience with difficult health issues (his father passed away earlier this year and his mother recently had heart surgery), and he said he wants “every American to have that same benefit” of access to quality and affordable care.
He spoke at length about growing up, how it important it was for him to be able to marry his husband, Chasten Buttigieg (thanks to a single deciding vote in the Supreme Court), and the importance of optimism.
He called the current administration a “horror show,” and said that, “Starting today, we’re going to change the channel.”
And he talked about “American greatness,” “American values,” and “hope”—themes that sound curiously reminiscent of another formerly unknown Democratic contender from the Midwest who went on to become the 44th president.
But Buttigieg clearly has work to do if he hopes to have a serious shot at the Democratic nomination. Ahead of Sunday’s rally, the mayor’s friend, David Axelrod, who was chief strategist to Barack Obama’s campaign, noted on Twitter, “Watching the @PeteButtigieg announcement from South Bend. Crowd seems very large, very impressive but also very white-an obstacle he will have to overcome.”
Afterward, however, Axelrod called Buttigieg’s performance a “powerful, coherent and well-delivered announcement speech.” He added: “Rooted himself in the middle of the country and American values AND heralded a new generation and new era. Who knows where it goes, but this is not a thing. It’s real.”
We’ll see. Buttigieg currently faces 17 other contenders for the Democratic nomination.