DES MOINES, IA (DES MOINES, Iowa) — It wasn’t long ago when Pete Buttigieg—born, bred and now leading South Bend, Indiana, as mayor—was little known beyond his Midwestern city, population around 100,000.
Now, he’s among the top tier of two dozen candidates seeking the Democratic nomination for president.
“It’s definitely something of a rocket ship and we’re building it while it’s blasting off,” said 37-year-old Buttigieg in a one-on-one interview.
Blasting off is an apt metaphor to describe Buttigieg’s rapid ascent in this 2020 primary, the jet fuel of his campaign rise propelling him to out-fundraise every other Democrat this past quarter with nearly $25 million raised.
Former Vice President Joe Biden scored $22 million; Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders raked in $19.2 and $18 million respectively.
The millennial and openly gay mayor—who, if elected, would make the first openly gay president—says he brings something new to the table, his executive experience as mayor among the list of qualifications he says equips him to lead the country.
“I don’t mean to disparage the work that good people are doing in Washington, but I do think the Washington perspective is different,” Buttigieg said. “Depending on what else you’ve done before getting to Congress, you could be a very senior member of Congress or the Senate and never in your life managed more than a few dozen people. It’s different when you’re responsible for the well-being of a city.”
Recently, his city and his leadership were tested after an African American man in his community was shot dead by a white police officer in June.
As racial tensions ensnare South Bend, its mayor is in the hot seat to defend his record—the incident marking the first time the scintillating stardom of his candidacy started to dim as criticism mounts. Buttigieg had to cancel campaign trips during the aftermath of the shooting to answer to his city’s residents.
“I think we are doing the right thing when it comes to the process around the investigation of what happened that night,” Buttigieg said during his Sunday interview.
On Monday, the police officer at the center of the case resigned from the South Bend Police Department.
“Part of why there is such frustration, pain and even anger in the community is that there are much deeper issues at stake,” Buttigieg said. “They have to do with the relationship of communities of color to policing and they go even deeper than that to issues of economic empowerment. It’s one of the reasons we’ve put forward the Douglass plan.”
His plan—named for famed abolitionist Fredrick Douglass—aims to tackle racial inequality through health care, education, economic and housing reforms, like boosting investment in historically black colleges and doubling federal funding for states that implement criminal justice reforms. He has long struggled to win over black voters, according to a recent POLITICO analysis of data from his mayoral elections, and whether he can secure the African American vote is a central question in this race.
Buttigieg likes to draw on his Midwestern roots on the campaign trail, jovially telling voters he meets that people back home call him “Mayor Pete.” He said that revitalizing rural America is an important issue that impacts the entire country. In Iowa, several counties that went for President Barack Obama flipped in 2016 for Donald Trump.
“I think Democrats have fallen out of the habit of talking about rural issues and yet on everything from climate change, to education, to access to quality health care— really a barometer of whether or not we are succeeding as a country is whether we can succeed in these communities that feel left behind,” Buttigieg said.
On health care, Buttigieg says he supports a plan that would give Americans the option to buy into government-run health insurance if they want it, but wouldn’t outright abolish private insurance in the name of “Medicare for All” as opponents Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren support.
“When everyone has the access to that quality public option, my expectation is that it will be more competitive than the corporate options out there that have people so frustrated,” Buttigieg said.
He also supports a $15/hour minimum wage; abolishing the electoral college; investing in infrastructure; and making college more affordable by increasing federal grants and expanding service opportunities for student debt relief.
But to accomplish any of this, Buttigieg has to ride the wave of his current success through a tough primary, come out on top of two dozen candidates and defeat President Trump for the White House.
It is undoubtedly a tall order, but Buttigieg proclaims he is going to fight for America—and for support to carry him to the nomination— because “there is not a moment to lose.”
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