DAVENPORT — Speaking in Davenport on Monday, South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg addressed the big question: Why should a 37-year-old mayor from the Midwest be the Democratic nominee for president?
“It makes sense for us to put forward a different kind of voice right now,” Buttigieg said in his stump speech, perched atop a short ladder. “It’s time for something completely different — for someone who comes out of executive leadership, someone who comes from the middle of the country, who understands smaller communities and who took up arms in the defense of our nation.”
Buttigieg (pronounced BOOT-edge-edge) has been mayor of South Bend since 2012 and is an openly gay veteran who served in Afghanistan. In January, he launched an exploratory committee to run for president.
At Brew in the Village, in the Village of East Davenport, Buttigieg spoke to around 90 Quad-Citians about his Midwestern roots and vision for higher office.
“I’m excited to be in a community that reminds me of the one I’m from,” Buttigieg said. “I’m also from a river community, one that was told it didn’t have much of a future. But we didn’t want to accept that sitting down.”
His hourlong meet-and-greet was the first stop on a daylong Iowa tour, his second of the year.
Buttigieg was born and raised in South Bend, where his parents worked as professors at the University of Notre Dame. He attended a private Catholic high school and Harvard University, graduating in 2004, before graduating from University of Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar. From 2007 to 2010, he worked for management consulting firm McKinsey & Company.
After losing to a Republican incumbent in the 2010 race for Indiana's state treasurer, Buttigieg was elected mayor of South Bend, where he has served since 2012. He has said he will not seek a third term in 2020.
An officer in the Naval Reserve since 2009, he deployed to Afghanistan for seven months in 2014.
“Our party has sometimes forgotten how to talk to this part of the country,” Buttigieg said to nods from the crowd. “And yet it’s in communities like ours that the commitments of our party — around fairness, around making sure everyone gets a shot — are where there’s the most at stake.”
Voters in attendance expressed enthusiasm for Buttigieg’s energy and skill set.
“To run a city you have to be very pragmatic,” said Jerry Linn, a retired Army lawyer from Eldridge. “He’s a fresh perspective, one that you won’t get from D.C.”
Linn and others liked what they heard from Buttigieg but want to wait and hear from other candidates before committing to any campaigns. Dozens of candidates are expected to stump in the Hawkeye State before the first-in-nation caucus in February 2020.
“We’ve got such a long way to go,” said Patrick Mirocha, who works for and lives in the city of Davenport. “I want someone to restore faith that government can function — more bipartisan legislation, no more shutdowns.”
In 2014, The Washington Post called Buttigieg “the most interesting mayor you’ve never heard of.” In 2016, New York Times columnist Frank Bruni ran a profile of Buttigieg titled “The First Gay President?”
If elected, Buttigieg would be a president of firsts: the first to be openly gay, the first to be elected in his 30s, the first millennial, and the first to be elevated directly from mayor.
The path is unprecedented, Buttigieg admitted, but not unwelcome. The positive response to his candidacy, he said, is “a sign that there’s an appetite for something unconventional.
“One thing you never hear is a mayor shutting down a city because he isn’t getting his way in the legislative body,” he added. “We just get the job done.”
On Monday Buttigieg also traveled to Iowa City and Cedar Rapids and heads to New Hampshire later this week. He’s also on tour promoting his memoir “Shortest Way Home,” which came out last month. His husband, Chasten, was with him Monday.
“I promise you,” Buttigieg said in closing, “this is the only chance you’ll ever get to vote for a Maltese-American, left-handed, Episcopalian, gay, war veteran, mayor, millennial.”