The Indiana Mayor Running for President Makes His Youth the Selling Point

February 21, 2019

By Justin Chermol

Pete Buttigieg is, by all counts, an outsider candidate for the White House. The mayor of the Indiana city known nationally for the Fightin' Irish football team (and a cinematic landmark in the popular film 'Rudy') has an impossible-to-pronounce name, low name recognition, and also happens to be the first openly-gay presidential contender. Still, Buttigieg is banking on yet another underdog trait to be his secret weapon: his youth.

As a 37-year-old millennial running for president, the South Bend mayor can claim a deeper connection than other candidates to the millions of young American voters hoping for change. But, that's not where the generational advantage ends, he said.

Buttigieg told Cheddar's J.D. Durkin on the campaign trail in New Hampshire that he's seeing excitement about the prospect of a young president, "not only from young voters, but from older voters who are concerned about the kind of world that they're eventually going to be leaving for their kids and grandkids."

Buttigieg is a member of what he calls the "school-shooting generation." In high school during the 1999 Columbine school shooting, and in elected office during last year's Parkland shooting, Buttigieg sees gun violence as a defining issue for younger voters, while past presidents ー hailing from generations when mass shootings didn't regularly make the news ー have done little to advance gun control legislation.

He also feels passionately about climate change legislation, and wants it to be treated like a "national emergency." He praised the Green New Deal ー a litmus test for progressive candidates ー calling it the "right direction for us to be moving in," rather than "a fully planned road-map."

Buttigieg said he wants to create change that benefits not just millennials, but future generations. "I'm about creating a message for the Democratic Party, and the country, that's gonna make as much sense in 2050 as it does in 2020," he said.

Buttigieg was elected mayor of South Bend, Indiana, in 2011, when he was just 29 years old. Before entering politics, he was a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy reserve and served overseas during the war in Afghanistan, earning a Joint Service Commendation Medal for his counterterrorism work. Buttigieg told Cheddar his leadership work in South Bend ー responding to crises like an emergency plane landing and a major flood ー have prepared him for the presidency.

"I understand some of the things at stake, the questions a good leader asks, and the gravity that you've gotta take those decisions with," he said.

And, like most millennials who feel a sense of distrust with American politics, Buttigieg wants to overhaul the system, specifically by purging dark money from campaign financing. He told Cheddar he supports a constitutional amendment "that clarifies that people come first, and that dollars and corporations don't have their own rights."

While elections in which the incumbent is running are typically thought to be a referendum on the incumbent's performance, Buttigieg said that, if Democrats are smart, they will not allow President Trump to define the race. "The bottom line is that this election is not about Donald Trump."

Nevertheless, the president has already begun lashing out at Democratic contenders on Twitter (see: Sen. Elizabeth Warren as Pocahontas, Sen. Amy Klobuchar as Snowman(woman), and Sen. Bernie Sanders as just crazy).

Buttigieg says he prepared for the fight.

"I grew up in Indiana, and I'm gay. So, I'm comfortable dealing with bullies," he said. "And, I've served overseas and we had a lot of rocket attacks, so I'm comfortable taking incoming fire."