When he first announced his exploratory committee in January, Mayor Pete Buttigieg was the relatively little-known mayor of Indiana’s fourth-largest city, with a sterling résumé, an unpronounceable name, and, as a gay millennial in the most crowded primary field in history, the longest of long shots at the Democratic presidential nomination.
Now, Buttigieg’s name—pronounced BOOT-edge-edge—is everywhere. After exploding out of the gate with a CNN town hall appearance in which he derided fellow Hoosier and Vice President Mike Pence as “cheerleader for the porn-star presidency,” the candidate has expertly ridden a tsunami of press coverage, surging from barely registering in polls of early-voting states to third place in both Iowa and New Hampshire.
The accompanying flood of donor dollars, massive crowds, and the first hints of concern from the Trump administration that the vice president’s harshest critic wasn’t just a flash in the pan, have turned a former near-impossibility into a reality: Buttigieg is officially running for president.
On Sunday, in a kickoff event in South Bend winkingly teased by the campaign as a “special announcement,” Buttigieg launched his historic campaign for the White House, becoming the 19th Democrat to join the race, the youngest candidate in the field, and the first out gay person to seek the party’s nomination in history.
“My name is Pete Buttigieg. They call me Mayor Pete. I am a proud son of South Bend, Indiana. And I am running for president of the United States.” Buttigieg said to an assembled crowd of some 4,500 inside Studebaker Building 84, a former car assembly plant. An additional 1,500 plus were out in the rain, according to the campaign.
“I recognize the audacity of doing this as a Midwestern millennial mayor,” he said. “More than a little bold—at age 37—to seek the highest office in the land. Up until recently, this was not exactly what I had in mind either, for how to spend my eighth year as mayor and my thirty-eighth year in this world. But the moment we live in compels us to act.”
In the address, given in his trademark-to-the-point-of-parody rolled-up sleeves, Buttigieg recounted some of the impressive biography that precedes nearly every profile of the 37-year-old mayor: son of two Notre Dame professors, with a Harvard degree and a Rhodes scholarship to his name, who left the lucrative world of corporate consulting to run for mayor of his hometown, then left his hometown to serve his country in Afghanistan.
He also confronted the “Make America Great Again” promise that helped earn Donald Trump key victories in the Midwest which propelled him to the White House, arguing that the posturing was based on fantasy.
“There’s a long way for us to go,” he said of South Bend. “Life here is far from perfect. But we’ve changed our trajectory, and shown a path forward for communities like ours. And that’s why I’m here today. To tell a different story than “Make America Great Again.” Because there is a myth being sold to industrial and rural communities: the myth that we can stop the clock and turn it back.”
Although Buttigieg’s event was light on policy, he did mention issues that have begun to form the core of his stump speech: generational justice, fighting economic inequality, and bringing small-town solutions to some of America’s greatest problems.
He also spoke candidly about his marriage to his husband Chasten, saying: “Our marriage exists by the grace of a single vote on the U.S. Supreme Court. Nine men and women sat down in a room and took a vote and they brought me the most important freedom in my life.”
The intensity of the crowd indicated that the Buttigieg campaign’s decision to wait longer than any other Democrat to announce his campaign—well, almost—paid off.
“We set up the committee in January trying to find out the answers to questions that you can only answer by getting out there: how’s the fundraising going to look, how’s it going to land in the early states, how’re people gonna feel about it, what kind of team can we build, and all of the indicators that we’ve seen are pointing in the same direction,” Buttigieg told The Daily Beast at a Chelsea fundraiser in late March. “You only get to launch once, though, and so we want to make sure that we do it right.”