How Pete Buttigieg shook up the Democratic primaries

37-year-old openly gay mayor of South Bend has come from nowhere to become one of the frontrunners in just 11 weeks

Pete Buttigieg launching his presidential campaign in South Ben
(Image credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images)

The 37-year-old openly gay mayor of a small mid-western town may not seem the most likely contender for the White House, but in the space of just 11 weeks Pete Buttigieg has come from nowhere to frontrunner status.

The remarkable rise of the South Bend mayor has been one of the defining stories of the early stages of the Democratic primaries.

Virtually unknown when he launched his exploratory committee back in January, opinion polls in early primary states Iowa and New Hampshire last week put Buttigieg third behind early frontrunners Senator Bernie Sanders and former vice-president Joe Biden – both of whom are more than twice his age.

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Just as importantly, Buttigieg has raised $7 million in the first quarter - fourth among candidates who have announced their fundraising so far. CNN says his rise “has also seen him get accepted to the upper echelon of Democratic donors, many of whom are looking to donate to multiple candidates as the field continues to grow”.

He has focused his campaign on three key issues of freedom, democracy and national security, and “could appeal to both moderates and progressives in the party, as he is a former Rhodes Scholar, consultant for the firm McKinsey and Co and US Navy reservist who served in Afghanistan”, says Sky News.

Officially launching his campaign on Sunday, Daniel Strauss for Politico says Buttigieg “framed his candidacy around his background as someone who was born and served as the mayor of a mid-sized Midwestern town that went through an economic and technological renaissance”.

He told supporters at a former car factory: “I ran for mayor in 2011 knowing that nothing like [carmaker] Studebaker would ever come back — but believing that we would, our city would, if we had the courage to reimagine our future. And now, I can confidently say that South Bend is back. More people are moving into South Bend than we’ve seen in a generation.”

He contrasted that with President Donald Trump’s Make America Great Again message and his promises to bring back old business to the region.

Buttigieg has positioned himself as the voice of millennials but “critics say his campaign has so far emphasised values and his personal story rather than a distinctive policy agenda”, reports the BBC.

He has, however, expressed support for tougher action on climate change, including the so-called “Green New Deal” proposals; gun control reform, namely universal background checks; a wealth tax to fund government spending; the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan; and passing the Federal Equality Act, legislation that would give federal non-discrimination protections to LGBT people.

According to CNN, “his recent star power showed through in a flurry of donations after his announcement, with supporters contributing more than $1 million to Buttigieg's campaign in the four hours following his speech on Sunday”.

While his path to the White House remains challenging, Fox News says Buttigieg would be the first openly gay nominee of a major presidential party; he would be the first mayor to go directly to the White House, and, he would be the youngest person to become president, turning 39 the day before the next inauguration, on 20 January 2021.

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