South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg is enjoying a “boomlet” among 2020 Democratic presidential candidates. After announcing his intention to run for president just last week, the virtually unknown Buttigieg has soared to a third place showing among Democrats in the key early caucus state of Iowa.
Buttigieg’s home paper, the South Bend Tribune, reports that Buttigieg “leap-frogged” a handful of well-known Democratic contenders, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) to take third place behind former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who have 25% and 24% respectively. Buttigieg is at 11%.
Harris is the only candidate even remotely competitive, with 10%.
That’s shocking news for the full Democratic field. Buttigieg is not a known commodity, but he is a well-liked mayor, a veteran, and a relatively soft-spoken progressive, whose rhetoric on the campaign trail, so far, has been far more inclusive than that of his competitors.
At a campaign stop Tuesday, Buttigieg, for example, was asked about Chick-fil-A, according to CNN. Taking note of the chicken chain’s politics, Buttigieg, instead of launching into a tirade about “anti-gay’ fast food sandwiches, offered to be the “bridge” between progressives and conservatives on the subject.
That light touch — at least recently — has brought him fans in the midwest, even though on paper he’s clearly as progressive as the rest of the field. Buttigieg supports packing the Supreme Court with additional justices in order to prevent longterm conservative control, and supports a universal health care program, though he makes some exceptions for private insurers. Born in 1982, Buttigieg is the first official “millennial” candidate, and he is also openly gay.
“The biggest surprise in this poll is Mayor Pete. Last week we saw him inching up in our national poll, and now he’s in double digits in Iowa. America is going to be asking, ‘Who is Mayor Pete?’” asked Emerson Poll director Spencer Kimball.
Vanity Fair, which is covering Buttigieg’s campaign, also notes that he’s acquired a cross-section of support that isn’t found in other campaigns, including that of his primary competitor — or, at least, his most similar rival — Beto O’Rourke.
“Buttigieg’s appeal straddles a few unusual categories. While 18-to-29-year-old voters are overwhelmingly pro-Sanders, with 44 percent gunning for the Democratic socialist, Buttigieg comes in second, with 22 percent. He also attracted a significant portion of Iowa voters who voted for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Democratic caucuses (tying with Warren at 15 percent), as well as 8 percent of those who voted for Sanders that year,” the magazine reports.
That makes him a problem not just for trailing Democrats, but for leading ones. Ultimately, if Buttigieg pulls from Bernie Sanders’ base, he may end up tanking the front-runner progressive, depriving him of the kind of foundational support Sanders needs to snag the Democratic presidential nomination.
Like many before him, though, Buttigieg will have to contend with the tendency of voters to crowd a candidate for a short time, and then abandon him for the next “trend.” And despite being adept at identify politics of his own, he is still neither a person or color nor female, two qualities that seem to be a requirement for the 2020 presidential nominee — even if an experienced politician may be the best to take on President Donald Trump.