Exploring Pete Buttigieg’s Path to the White House

Chris Johnson
By | 2019-02-20T16:15:34-05:00 February 20th, 2019|National, News|

Pete Buttigieg would make history if he becomes the first openly gay Democratic presidential nominee — and his path to the nomination may depend on whether the LGBT community supports him in his pursuit.
The mayor of South Bend, Ind., last week declared he has created an exploratory committee, which is considered the first step in a presidential run, emphasizing a “fresh start” for the nation and touting the rejuvenation of his city as mayor in his announcement.
Robby Mook, who’s gay and served as campaign manager for Hillary Clinton in 2016, weighed in on Buttigieg’s potential run in an email to the Blade.
“The key will be to stand out from the crowd and be able to drive your own message,” Mook said. “He certainly has a unique story to tell and this contest is wide open. There is no front runner.”
Chris Massicotte, a gay political consultant for the D.C-based DSPolitical, said LGBT support would be key in getting Buttigieg’s campaign off the ground.
“With the expected number of declared candidates to number in the dozens I think what the mayor needs to do is to first acknowledge that he has a natural national base in the LGBT community and quickly solicit low dollar contributions from our community,” Massiciote said.
Those donations, Massicotte said, would be essential in ensuring Buttigieg has a place on the debate stage among other Democrats in the primary process.
“Criteria for qualifying for the primary debates starting this summer is going to go beyond polling, and will also measure the number of grassroots donors a candidate has,” Massicotte said. “If Mayor Buttigieg can realize his grassroots fundraising potential he will get on the debate stage. Once he does that, he will stand out and shine as the youngest person on the stage with one of the most impressive resumes beyond just elected office. With this kind of field, it is anyone’s game.”
Even with LGBT support, political experts say this will be an uphill fight in a crowded field of Democrats who have greater name recognition than Buttigieg.
Buttigieg has a built a resume that includes being mayor of South Bend, Ind., military service in Afghanistan and a 2017 run to become chair of the Democratic National Committee, but he’s competing against Democrats who are U.S. senators — and possibly a former vice president and the 2016 Democratic nominee.
Daniel Pinello, a gay political scientist at the City University of New York’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice, was blunt in his assessment of Buttigieg’s chances in the 2020 race.
“Since World War II, no presidential nominee of either major party has had the political credentials of just being the mayor of a city of 100,000 people,” Pinello said. “Rather, the overwhelming majority of modern Democratic and Republican nominees have been either a vice president, a United States senator or a governor.”
Pinello added former President Eisenhower was “a very unusual exception” to this rule because he had name recognition from World War II as is President Trump, although he was recognized “in large measure due to his unique business and media history’s creating substantial national name recognition, too.”
“In contrast, how many American voters today would recognize Pete Buttigieg’s name let alone know how to pronounce it?” Pinello said. “So his current chances of securing the Democratic nomination are absolutely non-existent.”
Instead of pursuing the White House, Pinello concluded Buttigieg “would be far better advised to run for governor of Indiana first.”
Also questioning Buttigieg’s decision to run for president was Rufus Gifford, who unsuccessfully ran to represent Massachusetts’ 3rd congressional district in 2018 and raised money for the Democratic National Committee and former President Obama’s presidential campaigns.
“I don’t know what his email list looks like,” Gifford said. “I would imagine it’s probably pretty decent, but certainly doesn’t measure up to the Warrens and the Bernies and the Kamalas of the world just because of the work they’ve done historically, so he’s going to have to pound the pavement.”
Gifford, who said he hasn’t yet endorsed a candidate for 2020, added the LGBT community would be a “logical audience for him at the outset” and Buttigieg should work that circuit hard from a fundraising standpoint.
“I will say this, though, the LGBT community sees real allies in this field, so it’s not like he’s running 20 years ago when there would have been one candidate who’s head and shoulders above the field on LGBT issues,” Gifford said. “The fact that he is, of course, openly gay matters, and the community will respond to that, but it’s hard when you have real champions of LGBT equality in the field already.”
Gifford said Buttigieg has a “tough road” ahead and the key going forward is “hard work, diligence and message.”
“I think his message does resonate very much, very, very much, but the question is does it resonate enough to help put him over the top against candidates who have equally compelling messages,” Gifford said. “I think that’s his big challenge considering he’s obviously at a massive institutional disadvantage because of just who he is, because he does not have a national profile.”
This article originally appeared in the Washington Blade and is made available in partnership with the National Gay Media Association.

About the Author:

Chris Johnson
Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association.