How the mayor began to look presidential

Adam Wren is a publisher contributing to Politico Magazine and Monthly Indianapolis.

MANCHESTER, N.H. – It was dark outside the Currier Museum of Art and the hundreds of people who had come to see Pete Buttigieg were more and more agitated, perhaps even a bit reckless. They were lined up two hours earlier, no later than a Friday night, but they were still out while several hundred lucky fans were inside drinking craft beer and cracking. for cheese and crackers. Nearly a dozen volunteers distributed notebooks with registration sheets to join the campaign while transmitting to the Fire Marshal's order that the museum had exceeded its capacity of 300. "They are I heard one volunteer tell another. No campaign wants to reserve space as big as its nascent candidate can fill it, but no one wants to tick potential voters even before the candidate is officially declared.

A few minutes after 7:30 pm, the young mayor of South Bend, Indiana, compact and in great shape, was running in this potentially very difficult time. beginning. Instead of rushing into the museum, Buttigieg did the opposite. He avoided insiders talking to people in the parking lot. "I heard you urge voters to take a stand, so I found this park bench here," he told the crowded crowd with an ironic smile. The crowd laughed. It was a subtle and sympathetic shot in the Midwest of Beto O'Rourke's inclinations for climbing on tables and counters, with an added touch of "the Christian spirit that must come last". And that perfectly sums up the talent for casting a shadow without resembling a reflex that turned the 37-year-old into an early surprise of the ever-growing field of Democratic presidential candidates.

History continues below

Only a few months ago, when he announced the creation of his Exploratory Committee, Buttigieg was a virtually unknown stranger, with a confusing surname and a path to the presidency that most experts saw as best theoretical. Her husband, Chasten, who was not yet a social media freak, was sometimes mistaken as a staff member during the war in Iowa. During his first visits to New Hampshire, he could occupy someone's living room reliably. Today, he gets arrested by fans at airports – although they sometimes take him for a reporter, he jokes, as he often goes on cable TV channels – and he is followed by a dedicated group of national and international journalists, a by-product of these well received. TV interviews. He crossed the threshold of 65,000 individual donors required for the first democratic debate in June. This week, two polls from New Hampshire and Iowa placed him third behind Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden, still undeclared. Unique among the 2020 domain of more than a dozen Buttigieg is in the top 10 of the pack alongside Cory Booker, O'Rourke, Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren. Not only is he outstripping some, but in the first quarter of 2019 he has collected more money than many of them.

And his skyrocketing profile seems to come at a particularly useful time: Sunday afternoon, Buttigieg is expected to announce his official candidacy for an already historic campaign on several fronts. He has already positioned himself as a pioneer and a traditionalist, a breaker of norms and an observer of the rules: he is an openly homosexual candidate who proclaims the virtues of marriage; the mayor of a midwestern Midwestern city and a veteran and episcopalian practitioner in Afghanistan, sufficiently observant for him to give up alcohol for Lent.

So, how did Buttigieg manage that?

The answer comes with clues about the nature of the 2020 electorate that might not fit perfectly with the progressive-moderate narrative of concern now in the media.

"He got into the lead because his generation is used to giving money on the Internet to advance social causes and candidates they believe in," said Howard Dean, former chairman of the Democratic National Committee. , who had supported Buttigieg's candidacy for this position in 2017. me. "He thinks clearly, is not particularly ideological, open to new ideas. The fact that he is gay and married and runs for presidential elections is a huge sign for his generation and below, he understands. "

But he is also able to choose his targets. In addition to exceeding the expectations of the basement for his candidacy, Buttigieg has created a leaf that makes the front page of his pal, Hoosier's vice president, Mike Pence, the former governor of Indiana with whom Buttigieg has a long and not always controversial relationship. Although his critics are not new, he made me the same criticism of Pence almost two years ago. He skillfully challenged Pence by proclaiming his own faith, contrary to the antagonism of evangelical Christians toward homosexuality. "If you have a problem with who I am, your problem is not with me. Your argument, sir, is with my creator, "Buttigieg said recently.

He begins to catch the attention of the GOP machine, a sure sign that he is no longer considered a long-range absurd. Having not organized any quick reaction operation during CNN's public session, the Indiana Indiana GOP this week launched emails and tweets to attack Buttigieg, calling it "unbalanced" (a phrase that they had used last August when Buttigieg Illinois Democratic event, called Trump "a disgraced gameshow host") and sending an email with the subject line "Your Vice President is under ATTACK". Last year, the RNC awarded him the nickname Trump: "Peter Part Time". who can work or not, since some of his free time has been spent on the naval reserve in Afghanistan. Some Conservatives have even noted how effectively he is separating from the Democrats. "It worries me from the point of view of the Republicans," said conservative commentator Hugh Hewitt at "Meet the Press" last Sunday.

Now the question that Buttigieg faces as his campaign enters a new phase: can the runner cross the distance?


"The season of patience has passed, "said Buttigieg to the people gathered in the room. "At this hour, impatience might well be a virtue." It was in 2010 and Buttigieg – his slightly glum face at the time, his costumes a little more mismanaged – was in the middle of his first campaign for a political post: treasurer. He lost by a margin of 62.4 to 37.5%. To a former geologist who would later lose himself a race in the US Senate after declaring that a pregnant woman during a rape was "something God had wanted".

Buttigieg, however, has never lost that impatience. Friends and critics agree that he's always been a hurry man.

He is a decent runner who scored a half-marathon time of 1:42 when he was stationed at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan. But it is the speed with which he hopes to move from Indiana's fourth-mayor city to the White House, which put people at odds when he held his press conference in January. Too early, people said. Give him two more cycles, they said. After all, he could wait until 2032 to run and he would still not be 50 years old.

He chose not to operate according to the schedule of someone else. He did what he had to do to distinguish himself from the crowd of aspiring Trump killers. He created an exploratory committee because he really needed it. And he announced his exploratory committee by video and, later in the morning, gave a press conference in Washington, DC, because he knew that few, if any, national journalists would have made the trip north of the city. Indiana to cover it.

The first question that escaped everyone, of course, was his experience. Buttigieg came prepared.

"Listen, I have more experience in government than the President of the United States," he said in an interview with CBS This Morning on January 31. "I have more years of experience than the vice president. And I have more military experience than anyone behind this desk since George W. Buisson. This is not a conventional fund, but I do not think the time has come for a conventional fund. "

In Manchester, questions about the Buttigieg experience have become statements about his future. Buttigieg presented a five-minute version of his freedom, safety and democracy stump speech. He called for "a new vocabulary", telling his supporters that "freedom does not belong to a single political party", that "security is neither left nor right", that "We will not be the democracy we claim to be if we tolerate districts where politicians choose their constituents and not the other way around." When he was done, the crowd yelled and shouted: Pete! Pete! Pete! Someone shouted: President Pete!

Moderate tone that adheres to a progressive program of democratic reforms, the cerebral Buttigieg balances high speeches and political specificities. He talks about cybersecurity, but also critics in the meta-critics of Trump's signature campaign slogan: "There is no honest policy that revolves around the word" still "," a line that 39, he is almost sure to use Sunday when … standing in the Old Studebaker Building 84, one of the largest auto factories in the world and now turned into a technology center, he will formalize his bid for 2020. "The The way he talks about the problems is refreshing for a lot of people, "said his campaign director, Mike Schmuhl. "These are not just decisive tests, platitudes and what do you want to hear? They are values, then they go to ideas and then to politics. "

There are 11 months left before the first primaries vote, but last Friday's event seemed more like an end to an election campaign. People had chosen and they were not afraid to say it.

Erin Tatum, a 27-year-old wheelchair-bound Philadelphia writer, knew who she was voting for before boarding the car for the seven-hour drive north. Tatum persuaded her mother to travel by road because she loves Buttigieg's generational message and her military service. After the event, she and Buttigieg spoke. He stood near his motorized wheelchair and stared at his eyes. "He's a respectful man who has led a principled life," Tatum, a bisexual, told me after meeting Buttigieg. "I really felt recognized – what you do not like often as a disabled person – so it's a moment that has marked me."

The next day in Concord, I spoke to Mark and Laurie Brown, both 52 years old, a white married couple from Salem, New Hampshire, who generally vote in a democratic manner and own a screenprint company. Buttigieg had caught Laurie's attention when she had heard him call on television to abolish the constituency – one of his signature proposals ("It was a bold step to take," she says). When it comes to experience, she told me, "He will say that senators have no experience of leadership. It manages more people than most Senate offices. He has to do many things at once and do a lot of things. He is still running in South Bend for the moment. I do not think age is a problem. He sort of ticked a lot of boxes and attracted a lot of people. He is incredibly well spoken and empathetic. "

"Hats off to anyone with military experience," Mark said. "It's something I could never do."

Laurie is more of the true believer of both, Mark told me before Buttigieg's arrival. Their son is gay and they appreciated the historical nature of Buttigieg's candidacy. While Buttigieg was giving his speech, I watched Mark nod as he spoke of the freedom to start a small business. "I would say you're not free to quit your job and start a small business if you're worried about not getting health care," Buttigieg said. I said.

After the speech, Mark said that this line resonated with him. "You want people to do well," he said. Buttigieg did he convert? "Yeah, I'm more nervous – or my reserve is – we really want anyone to advance to have the country behind them, and I'm just a little worried about …" His voice faded. who are not in this room or who are in the south or in different places are going to be able to look beyond his age and things like that? "


Buttigieg would have no problem indicate what "things like that" mean. His openness about his sexuality has clearly been a boon to improve his profile at the very beginning, but it is just as obvious that some supporters worry that there may be segments of the music. electorate for whom this would have the opposite effect and that this could eventually put a cap on his appeal. The way he tackles these prejudices could have a huge impact on the ability of this unlikely campaign.

If there is one thing that goes in his favor, it is that he seems to have avoided the trap of the colony. It has the merit of not forcing people to choose between progressive and moderate, between wanting to tackle the global threat of climate change and preserving a strong national defense. And yet, at some point, people will have to make choices. The candidate: Buttigieg, for the moment, has not alienated Democratic voters by posting a policy page on his website – a fact that many voters at his events in New Hampshire pointed out to me.

In his appeal to voters in New Hampshire, almost uniformly white, Buttigieg spoke of leading the kind of campaign that would unite the country. "Where is it written that a so-called red state, red county, must be red forever?" Asked Buttigieg to his audience at Concord's bookstore. "They were not Republicans at first, they do not need to be Republicans in the future."

I've spoken to Buttigieg about the challenge of being an ambitious democrat in a red state. I watched it last fall in South Bend before the midterms, when we went running along the St. Joseph River, went around the city by car and drank beers at Fiddler & ########################################################################## 39; s Hearth, the downtown bar where he and Chasten had their first date of September 2015. "I have the wisdom to say that if you do what you need to do to win Democratic primaries, it is more difficult to be a candidate in a conservative state, "he said. "But I think that from year to year, things change so quickly. That you do not want to think about it too much. I do not think you have to run for a position you did not want to win. It was therefore clear to me that he was thinking about the pros and cons of a presidential race considering the fact that his chances in his home country were so minimal. limit. After he spoke in New Hampshire, I asked him again, at a press conference, how he thought he could win in the counties and the red states, as long as 39, he told me last year that he had no way to win all over the state of Indiana.

"It's not a race that you run through the process of elimination," he replied. "It's about the idea that what the moment may be calling someone like me, and for the same reasons as the first time we used the vote [the mayor’s race]I was just as popular with Republicans as South Bend Democrats. And I think it's possible, even with a shamelessly progressive message, to talk to people from all sides. "

He told me that he was surprised that he was the first 2020 democrat to appear in Fox News on Sunday. "Many people react strongly to my message but are not ideological at heart. They are just American. And if we do not talk to them, then we are sure to lose. "

Points earned to enter the lion's den, but Compared to a person like Amy Klobuchar, who won the 43 Trump counties when she was re-elected to the Senate in 2018, Buttigieg does not have much of an electoral record to confirm her purple speech. Minnesota's political dynamics are different from Indiana's, but St. Joseph's County, of which South Bend is the largest city, is a blue island in Red Indiana, but it is becoming less so . In 2016, Hillary Clinton beat Trump by 0.2. percentage points, winning 47.7 percent of voters to 47.5 percent of Trump. In a statement released Saturday before the official announcement of its offer, the Indiana GOP issued a statement in which it claimed that the highest number of votes ever obtained by Buttigieg had been 10,991 at the time of the announcement. 39; May 2011 general election. "On match day, Notre Dame Stadium attracts eight times more fans than votes that Pete Buttigieg has never received in a successful run for the office," said the Indiana GOP Chair, Kyle Hupfer. And yet, Buttigieg is betting that his nontraditional profile has an appeal in Trump's time: to be sure, it's 10,991 more voters than the current president had ever received before 2016.

During an interview in South Bend a few days before the swing of Buttigieg in New Hampshire, Schmuhl, the campaign leader, told me that Buttigieg had returned 3,000 Republican voters during the 2011 primary. If you have a race, you often change your mind when you think of other candidates or problems, "Schmuhl tells me in front of a café at Chicory Cafe, a place on the first floor of the new headquarters of his Buttigieg campaign. "The way he talks about problems refreshes a lot of people. These are not just decisive tests, platitudes and what you want to hear. They are values, then they go to ideas and then to politics. "

Nothing changes the setting of a race like a lot of fundraising. The day before my interview with Schmuhl, the campaign not yet announced announced that Buttigieg had shot $ 7 million in the first quarter. Not even half of what Sanders' seasoned machine had lifted, but better than Booker. Better than Warren. Better than Klobuchar.

Later in the evening, I went to dinner at Fiddler's Hearth. They were there, sitting in the back corner, at table # 2. While an Irish group consisting of eight members was playing, Buttigieg posed for photos with local supporters, celebrating his fundraising total with some members of his campaign staff under a sign. it read "South Bend Wall of Arms". In the hope of an interview, I asked the bartender to send two pints of Guinness. Another person in the restaurant had already tried to do it, she said, but Pete refused the free beers. he abstained from alcohol during Lent. Scrambling, I remembered that they had ordered scotch eggs (a staple for a heart-breaking pub) at their first date, so I sent an order. It was said that the Buttigieg had laughed and that the party had devoured them, but I did not have the interview. The days of almost free access are over.

The next morning, I visited the new Buttigieg headquarters: a suite of offices was named Truman and a second suite was named Buddy – the names of Buttigiegs' famous rescue dogs on Twitter. Rich in money, the countryside still plans to stay slim. The shop features printer paper posters with department names scribbled by Sharpie, such as Finance. "We have the resources to grow, and now we need to make sure we continue to have quality people," Buttigieg told reporters at Concord's Gibson's bookstore last Saturday. "We will always work to be a lean and disjointed operation. It's just our style. "

This has always been his style, even during the first failed campaign of the treasurer of state. "We were cheap. We did not use yard panels. We were extremely economical with what we spent with money. Our goal was to go on television, "said his campaign director of the time, Jeff Harris. "The more I knew of people who would meet Pete, the better I knew he could do it. There are many parallels [with his 2020 campaign]. They live off the land. Indeed, Buttigieg seems to have said "yes" to almost all media and podcast guest requests, thus strengthening the identification of his name in every place he could get. No opportunity was too small: once in February, I even attended an interview with Peter Dunn, a financial planner in Indianapolis, nicknamed "Pete the Planner", in which Buttigieg spent 10 minutes in accumulate credit. debt card and repay the student loans of Chasten.

I asked Howard Dean, who knows what it's like to have a poll increase similar to Buttigieg's, what Buttigieg has to do to maintain momentum. "It has to go through a grueling process without letting the initial success make it too dismissive for the other candidates, past and present."

What if everything collapses in the second quarter? And if he starts the debate in June or finishes among the top three in Iowa next year? Does that mean he should go home and treat his wounds on a scotch egg at Fiddler's Hearth? Probably not.

If Buttigieg does not live up to his party's candidacy, he is already positioning himself as a skilled interrogator of Pence if he were to meet in a vice-presidential debate next year. "It's funny because I do not think the vice president has a problem with him, but I think it helps Pete to gain some notoriety by saying that about the vice president," said the second lady, Karen Pence, in Brian Kilmeade's Brian News radio show on Tuesday. Pence himself said Friday about Buttigieg, saying in an interview with CNN that the mayor "knows I do not have a problem with him." It may be that he has a growing fracture with Pence, but he does not have the ox with everything. Republican Party. Buttigieg is showing photos of himself with former Republican governor Mitch Daniels and Republican Senator and statesman Dick Lugar in his office, alongside those with Michelle and Barack Obama and the l & # 39; former vice president Joe Biden.

Standing on this park bench in Manchester, in his blue tie campaign uniform, the rolled up sleeves of his white shirt, under a cloak, Buttigieg was not thinking of the vice-presidency. Instead, he began to offer at least the image of a potential commander-in-chief. "I'm probably not what you imagined when you imagined your next president," Buttigieg said, self-conscious and self-effacing from the Midwest.

Some people shouted: You are.

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