You can bet on just about anything online — including the Democratic presidential nominee.

Depending on the bookmaker, Pete Buttigieg, the openly gay mayor of South Bend, Indiana, has either the third- or fourth-best odds of facing President Donald Trump.


Portrait of GV Wire News Director Bill McEwen


Bill McEwen

That’s a testament to the rising arc of Buttigieg’s campaign. A year ago, the 37-year-old Harvard graduate and former Naval Reserve intelligence officer was relatively unknown outside of the Midwest.

Buttigieg’s Youth Is Actually a Plus

Without a doubt, he’s a fresh-faced alternative to the old Democrats (Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders) and left-wingers (Elizabeth Warren, Sanders) aiming for the White House.

So what’s his appeal?

I put the question to Buttigieg fans who crammed into tiny Tuolumne Hall in downtown Fresno for a meet-and-greet with the candidate Wednesday morning.

The curated answer: He’s young, smart, well-spoken, likable and the anti-Trump.

“What we hear from him is so spot-on,” said Marianne Kast, a retired teacher.

Isn’t he a bit young? After all, the youngest president ever was Teddy Roosevelt, who was 42 when he moved up from vice president after William McKinley’s assassination. John F. Kennedy, the youngest elected U.S. president, was 42.

“Hell no,” Kast answered. “It’s Bernie’s age (77) that bothers me — or Biden’s age (76.)”

Buttigieg Is Calm in a Time of Political Turmoil

Sandy Baronian sees “Mayor Pete” as the antidote for a divided nation.

“Pete calms me,” she said. “He’s articulate and he’s intelligent.”

Buttigieg also scores points because he’s willing to politely engage people who disagree with him on the issues.

“His town hall on Fox News was great,” Baronian said.

It was great for Buttigieg as well. He turned the event in Claremont, New Hampshire co-moderated by veteran newsman Chris Wallace on the conservative network into a showcase for his campaign. It averaged 1.1 million viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research — topping the audience in the same hour for MSNBC and CNN combined.

A Wonk With Charisma

Buttigieg’s magic is that he’s a policy wonk who doesn’t sound like a wonk.

One, he knows how to break down policy and show how it might affect your life. Two, he’s blessed with indefinable traits that add up to charisma. Three, he presses opponents without sounding like he’s angry or on the attack.

On Monday, he took aim at Donald Trump and the president’s commandeering of the Republican Party.

“Whether you subscribe to a faith tradition or not, we all know hypocrisy when we see it, and we’re seeing an awful lot of it in Washington.” — Pete Buttigieg

“Freedom does not belong to one political party. Patriotism does not belong to one political party. God does not belong to a political party,” Buttigieg said. “People of any religion and people of no religion can come equally before American democracy in the public square and have our voices heard, that’s the idea. Well, many of us believe that our faith guides us. You see believers who demonstrate decency and humility and a commitment to lifting us the least among us. … Whether you subscribe to a faith tradition or not, we all know hypocrisy when we see it, and we’re seeing an awful lot of it in Washington.”

In a room packed with 200-plus activist Democrats, Buttigieg contrasted his campaign and his age to that of early front-runner Biden.

There are “communities that feel like Democratic and Republicans administrations have not been speaking to them,” Buttigieg said. “And so we in our party cannot go around promising to turn back the clock to the 2000s or the 90s any more than they can keep a promise to turn back the clock to the 1950s. We have got to do something completely different.”

It was as if Buttigieg was talking directly to Joan Hughes. Waiting outside the hall before the event, she told me the Democrats needed to look ahead — not in the rear-view mirror.

“We can’t go back to the days of Obama after being trampled by Trump,” she said.

How Buttigieg Defines ‘Pro-Life’

In response to a question from the audience about anti-abortion laws passed recently in Southern states, Buttigieg offered his definition of pro-life:

“We have a responsibility to support mothers and to make sure that we have the right kind of birth control and sex education so that — if you don’t like Planned Parenthood, think about unplanned parenthood and the pressure that puts on our communities,” he said. “So the work that is done whether it’s by Planned Parenthood, or the work that ought to be done supported by government policies supported by the right kind of health care, full health care, health care where being a woman is not a preexisting condition, that’s what it means to be truly pro-life, in my opinion.”

On LGBTQ rights, Buttigieg cheered the progress while saying there’s a long way to go.

“In Indiana, while Mike Pence was governor, I got reelected with 80% of the vote the same year that I came out. So the progress has been unbelievable,” he said. “But until discrimination is not lawful in this country, until anybody can walk without fear, knowing that they can be who they are, we’ve got our work cut out for us, and I’ll be there every step of the way.”

Clearly, Buttigieg is trying to give voice to a Christian Left that has been all but buried in many parts of the country by the chest-beating Christian Right that elected Trump.

Maybe Not 2020 But Someday

I asked longtime Fresno political analyst Don Larson if Buttigieg could end up as the Democratic nominee — ahead of Biden, Sanders or Kamala Harris.

As Larson sees it, Buttigieg is positioning himself for another presidential run down the line. His 2020 campaign is all about building his name and brand nationally.

“But I’m voting for him now,” said Larson, who turns 86 in September. “I don’t know that I can wait eight years.”


12 Responses

  1. Joseph Herzog

    Mayor Pete intellectual, knowledgable and personable and he’s skilled at reaching out. Much in his favor, and I wouldn’t hesitate for a nano second to vote for him. I’d love seeing him in a debate with Trump, but only if there’s a moderator who will control the narcissist in charge. All of that being said, the comment that the other Democrats were “Stale”, is unfair. No candidate is perfect, but a number of the others have sound ideas that benefit the country as a whole and the much maligned poor and middle class, in particular. Of course I’m front and center in the “Anybody but Trump” club, but yes, Mayor Pete looks like a winner to me.

  2. Lew Griswold

    Nice commentary, Bill. (That’s quite a ‘stache in the photo.)

  3. Michelle Braun

    “Buttigieg is trying to give voice to a Christian Left that has been all but buried in many parts of the country by the chest-beating Christian Right that elected Trump.”

    What nonsense! You cannot be a Christian and a Leftist at the same time. The two are mutually exclusive. Christianity supports neither abortion nor homosexuality. You can repent from those things and *become* a Christian, but you cannot live both ways. He and his followers need to start their own religion that supports their values and stop appropriating Christianity.

    • M Maguire

      Help me to know how that very same Christianity you refer to is so weakly and easily silenced by the cavorting our current POTUS has done with a porn star. If you’re challenging words about how Christianity is not accepting some of Pete Buttigiege’s practices & beliefs, where are your “Christian” voices, with authentic, faith-based retorts & challenges, to a slandering, name-calling U.S. President [“s—-hole countries,” / “Pocahontas,” +++]? To true Christians, why do you support an adulterer like D.T.? Isn’t Christianity opposed to adultery, too? Why do you give this hypocritic a pass (and how, literally in God’s name, do you vote for him)?!

      Please, engage us with faith-inspired ideas and not faith-ignoring bluster.

      Consider this: if, as a Christian, you seem to value the emphasis a political leader may put on their faith, how would you honestly assess relatively-new-to-national-politics Pete Buttigieg’s open sharing about his Christianity and how it influences & informs his public service, his personal life, & his leadership, and the current POTUS’s open sharing about his Christianity and how it influences & informs his public service, his personal life, & his leadership? Just some food for thought 🙂

    • Beth Riches

      Mayor Pete is an Episcopalian, and the last time I checked, Episcopalians were Christians.

      Just because your particular brand of Christianity is anti-choice and homophobic doesn’t mean that every Christian feels that way.

    • Wayne

      It is people like you who give Christianity a bad name. A true Christian accepts people for who they are. One cannot choose to be gay, or straight. You may not agree with their lifestyle and maybe they don’t like yours, but a true Christian just accepts and does not judge, or preach. You are not a true Christian.

    • Patricia Geitner

      The Old Testament also is against divorce, birth control and women’s rights and advises slaves to obey their masters. But what did Jesus say? Jesus clearly said that we are not to judge one another and we are to love one another. Jesus said that a rich man will not go to heaven. He also said that those who show mercy to the poor, the sick, and the needy are in effect ministering to Him personally (Matthew 25:35–40) and will be rewarded accordingly. I think Jesus would be a Democrat.

    • Bobbie

      Michelle I guarantee you that the Pope disagrees with you! Maybe he should also start a new religion as well?
      No wonder at the Baptist convention last week everyone was freaking out because they were loosing all of their followers. I’m guessing if Christ were here, he would say you are the one with the ‘new’ religion! Not Christians any more, they are Trumpians!

  4. M Maguire

    In Response to Michelle Braun:

    Unrepentant, repeated adultry, slandering & name-calling [“s- – – hole countries” / “Pocahontas,” +++], cavorting with Playboy models and a porn star…..does Christianity support any of these lifestyle choices of our current POTUS? How is it that (some) Christians so easily, weakly, and meekly give a pass on our Sinner-in-Chief? And, if we’re being sincere about a comprehensive, faith-based assessment of our leaders, who is the one doing the, “appropriating (of) Christianity,” when comparing Pete Buttigieg with DT? Or, which one openly, honestly, and regularly shares about their Christianity and how it inspires and informs their personal life, their leadership, and their call to public service. It’s beyond me how (some) people who seem to espouse Christian values can look the other way when confronted with the current, unrepentant Sinner-in-Chief, even to the point of supplanting their Christianity by and with their votes for him. Shameful.

  5. Beth Riches

    Very good piece. As a current resident of South Bend (also born and raised here), I’ve had numerous opportunities over the years to interact with Mayor Pete. I can tell you that he is the real deal. He had a Christmas party for his supporters in 2016, and when he and Chasten came by our table, I asked him how we were supposed to deal with the 2016 election. We were all pretty down in the dumps. He talked to us for maybe 10 minutes, encouraging us to stay involved (including locally) and to speak out and stand up for our Democratic values. As they walked away, we looked at each other and agreed that we all felt better. He was honest and encouraging, and in the space of 10 minutes, made us feel like we were going to be okay, but only if we work for it.

    He is a remarkable person, a great Mayor, and I couldn’t be prouder to support him. Go Pete Go!

  6. Oliver

    What a delight just to look at Pete, let alone to listen to him. All that he is comes out in his appearance. No frown, no nasty name calling or obvious bull sh** insults.

    So tired of listening to and seeing the miserable nature of our current president. Sorry to say, whenever he appears on the screen I either mute or shut it down. He has nothing, absolutely nothing, to add as far as I am concerned. United States how did you ever allow this? How are you ever going to get out of this situation?


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