South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg generating buzz among Democrats

Democrats are going to have a lot of candidates to choose from in 2020 — septuagenarian socialists; a couple of losers from 2018; and women, women, and more women.

But for some reason, the focus this week has settled on an unknown mayor from a small Midwestern city.  He's young, a veteran — and, oh, yes, he's gay.

South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg is not a serious challenger to the Democratic frontrunners — yet.  But he's creating a buzz among Democratic primary voters in early states — not only for who he is, but for what he says.


Unlike President Donald Trump, the South Bend, Ind., mayor, who is still technically in the "exploratory" phase of a 2020 presidential campaign, is young, progressive and gay.

While Trump obtained deferments to avoid Vietnam, Buttigieg signed up for military service when his generation went to war in Afghanistan.  He comes from a small Midwestern city rather than the Big Apple.  And perhaps most important to primary voters and some Republicans, his politics are informed by a deep grasp of history, philosophy and ethics that are at odds with Trump's rejection of expertise.

"It's so diametrically opposed to everything Trump," said Molly Jong-Fast, a New York author and socialite who has hosted a dinner for Buttigieg late last year and is planning a fundraiser for him this spring.  "Even if Pete is not the candidate, he is the future of the Democratic Party."

Buttigieg recently said "a figure like" President Donald Trump "should never have been able to come within cheating distance of the Oval Office."  So much for civility.

But whether it's because he's so new to the national scene or because there's such a huge contrast between him and Sanders, Warren, and Biden, early Democratic primary voters are giving him the once-over:

Still, the interest in Buttgieg is spreading on the ground in early states, said Jaime Harrison, a former South Carolina Democratic Party chairman and Senate candidate who ran against Buttigieg for Democratic National Committee chairman a couple of years ago.

"There are definitely some folks who are talking about him," Harrison said.  "He's an extremely gifted politician and he's very genuine.  I think what everybody else is seeing is what I saw when we were head to head. ... I would not dismiss Pete at all."

That goes for Iowa, too, said state party chairman Troy Price.

"We've seen growing interest," Price said.  "Iowa caucus-goers and Iowa Democrats are interested in what he has to say and want to hear more."

The key for Buttigieg — as it will be for all minor candidates — is to stand out in the coming Democratic candidate debates.  He's certainly a learned man — but so was Woodrow Wilson.  Jimmy Carter was a nuclear physicist.  Bill Clinton was a Rhodes scholar.  The measure of a candidate is not how much information he can cram into his head, but whether he has the capacity to lead.

This may be a "moment" for Mayor Buttigieg.  Does he have anything worthwhile to say?