North America

Pete Buttigieg: Gay small town mayor announces presidential campaign for the Democrats

0:00

Pete Buttigieg, the young, gay, liberal mayor of a small American city has officially launched his presidential bid.

Pete Buttigieg, the Rhodes scholar and Afghanistan war veteran was largely unknown a month ago, but he is now vying to take on President Donald Trump for the Democrats in 2020.

At just 37, he is the youngest and the first openly gay contender for the White House.

 Mayor Pete Buttigieg meets with voters
Mayor Pete Buttigieg meets with voters
EPA/AAP

Mr Buttigieg, who is credited with helping his hometown of South Bend turn around, has framed himself as a ‘can-do reformer’ who can speak to voters across the political spectrum.

Pete Buttigieg - the different kind of politician

The message has helped catapult him from relative obscurity to a star in the crowded Democratic presidential race.

"My name is Pete Buttigieg. They call me 'Mayor Pete.' I'm a proud son of South Bend, Indiana, and I am running for president of the United States!" he told a jubilant crowd of supporters at a former assembly plant turned high-tech hub in South Bend.

They call me mayor Pete

"That's why I am here, to tell a different story than 'Make America Great Again'" he added, referring to Trump's campaign slogan. "This time it's not just about winning an election. It's about winning an era."

During the launch, the mayor touched upon a number of liberal talking points such as racial justice, voting rights and health care reform, as well as his faith and marriage to Chasten Buttigieg.

Mr Buttigieg had no writer to help him prepare his speech.

So many people showed up for the launch event that a large crowd was left outside in the rain to watch on a large video screen.

Mr Buttigieg braved the elements and thanked the crowd moments before making his official announcement indoors.

Buttigieg is meeting supporters
Buttigieg is meeting voters
NY Times

"He represents a new generation of Democratic leadership. We love his vision," said 35-year old Jenn Watts, while her three-year-old daughter sat on her shoulders.

 We love his vision

They were in the event space in the former plant of defunct automaker Studebaker waiting more than two hours to see Mr Buttigieg speak.

"As a young mom with a young daughter, he represents what I want my daughter to see in leadership in this country," Ms Watts added.

The former US Navy officer has raised more than 9 million AU $ in the past three months.

He jumped to third place in the latest polls of voters in Iowa and New Hampshire; the earliest states to vote in next year's primary elections.

Mr Buttigieg, who speaks eight languages and plays classical piano, has been the focus of countless news stories and profiles.

He must still overcome the perception that his youth and thin resume as mayor of a town of just 100,000 people leaves him lacking the experience necessary for the presidency. 

"I recognize the audacity of doing this as a Midwestern millennial mayor," Buttigieg said. "But the moment we live in compels us to act."

Drew Corbin, a 24-year-old college student clutching four campaign T-shirts he had purchased for friends and wearing a campaign cap, said he still had not fully committed to the candidate.

"There's a lot of candidates. I don't want to make up my mind so soon, almost a year before the primaries," Corbin said. "But he's definitely my favorite right now."

'Destined for national politics'

The biggest symbol of South-Bend’s decline was the deserted Studebaker plant in one part of the town.

When he was elected mayor, Mr Buttigieg set out to tear down decaying, abandoned homes and restore the blighted Studebaker complex to make it suitable for new high-tech companies.

In an unlikely feat, the city has reversed decades of population decline and attracted new businesses and development, with the mayor's popularity growing in the process.

"His appeal, for many people in South Bend, is his ability to look forward and to focus on better days ahead," said Indiana University science professor, Elizabeth Bennion, who is based in South Bend.

"Once people looked at his resume and heard him speak, many started talking about the fact that he was destined for national politics."

Campaign staffers said they have been caught by surprise by the speed with which the mayor has generated nationwide political support, and are still staffing up the campaign.

Stay up to date with SBS NEWS

  • App
  • Subscribe
  • Follow
  • Listen
  • Watch