South Bend’s Mayor Pete: Could He Win?Posted on: July 8, 2019, by : Jeff Turner
By Jeff Turner
Twenty-five candidates are vying for the Democratic Presidential nomination, hoping for the chance to potentially unseat President Donald J. Trump. Former Vice President Joe Biden has been the clear front runner for most of the race, though many gaffes on the campaign trail and a lackluster debate performance in June have caused his lead in the polls to shrink. Nonetheless, many expect the former VP to be the Democratic nominee. What many people and pundits alike weren’t expecting however was for Pete Buttigieg, a native Hoosier and mayor of South Bend, to have performed so well in such a crowded field. In fact, outside of Indiana he has virtually no name recognition. Until now.
Born in South Bend, the thirty-seven-year-old twice elected Mayor is the youngest to ever hold the office in a city with a population over 100,000. He has a rather impressive resume as well. He’s an Afghan War veteran, Rhodes Scholar, and speaks seven languages in addition to English. He is the first openly gay Democrat to actively seek his party’s nomination (the first openly gay major party candidate was a Republican). Should he be elected President, he would not only be the first openly gay POTUS, but also the first millennial to be elected to that office.
A very intelligent, charismatic individual and a good speaker, Buttigieg does appear to be what the Democratic Party needs. As one South Bend resident put it, though Biden is his preferred candidate, he likes Buttigieg because “I like people who care about the Rust Belt.” The Rust Belt, namely the states of Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, went for Donald Trump in 2016, allowing him to eke out a win over Hillary Clinton despite losing the popular vote. Even Al Gore (who also won the popular vote back in 2000) and John Kerry, who both went on to lose to George W. Bush, managed to win those three states. Many have pointed out in recent years however that the Democratic Party seems to have lost the support of the blue collar workers in the Rust Belt. Buttigieg, some believe, is a candidate who could potentially win some of those voters back. Possibly. While his resume does make him an interesting candidate, could he actually win the nomination and defeat Donald Trump in a general election? It seemed that he was on the fast track towards being a top tier candidate earlier this year. However his momentum appears to have stalled, as certain issues have arisen that have threatened to derail his campaign.
There are many obvious differences between Buttigieg and Trump, ones which make Mayor Pete seem like a refreshing contrast. But in recent weeks certain issues have come to light, namely that Buttigieg has an image problem with minority voters, primarily African-Americans. This may seem strange since a quarter of South Bend’s population is black. However, in mid-June a white South Bend police officer fatally shot fifty-four-year-old Eric Logan, a black South Bend resident. The officer’s body camera was not on, and no known recordings of the event exist. The shooting drew anger and condemnation from South Bend’s African-American community and activist groups. This was made all the more evident during a town hall meeting held by Buttigieg (who temporarily suspended his Presidential campaign) to address the incident. A viral video even made the rounds on mainstream and social media. Activists and Logan’s family can be seen in the video confronting Buttigieg who can be heard saying “I’m not trying to get your vote.”
This isn’t the first time Buttigieg has riled South Bend’s black community either. During his first term as mayor, Buttigieg was under fire for demoting the city’s first African-American Police Chief. This followed an incident involving the police chief having the phone conversations of officers under him recorded in order to expose racism in his own department. However, according to Buttigieg and others, this violated Federal wiretapping guidelines, where the permission of the person being recorded is required.
Buttigieg’s housing programs and certain other initiatives are also being criticized. Due to price increases for property, black residents are being disproportionately forced from their neighborhoods. Gentrification’s effects on the black community have also been a source of concern for African-American residents during Buttigieg’s time in office, a problem many feel the mayor has not adequately addressed.
Buttigieg is reportedly polling at abysmal levels with African-American voters across the country. Not all of this stems from problems back home in South Bend. According to The Daily Beast, many black voters outside of South Bend and outside of Indiana aren’t familiar with Buttigieg. Buttigieg has largely been a local political figure, aside from getting some national attention when he ran to become DNC chairman. He wound up withdrawing the day the election was held, though he was never expected to win. If Buttigieg wants to regain his stalled momentum, he has to figure out a way to address these failures to connect with African-American voters. And he needs to do so rather quickly. He recently appeared at the Essence Festival in New Orleans, where he attempted to court female African-American voters. But it may be too little too late.
Even his difficulties appealing to black voters may not be the biggest obstacle Buttigieg faces on the campaign trail. Buttigieg is the first openly gay man to run for the Democratic nomination for President. The LGBTQ community has made great strides over the years. This year’s Pride month in June even marked fifty years since the Stonewall Riots that essentially started the gay riots movement. But one question remains. Can an LGBTQ identifying individual be elected President in this country? A great amount of prejudice and bigotry still exists in this country, especially towards the LGBTQ community. Andrew Bieszad, an obscure writer for a conservative news website, even publicly called Buttigieg a “sodomite,” among other things. Had that been someone using the n-word in reference to then-candidate Barack Obama in 2007 as he campaigned for the Democratic nomination, the individual would be out of a job. The point is that some might consider Buttigieg’s sexual orientation puts him at a potential disadvantage during a general election matchup. Some might even argue that it would make a victory impossible.
A Quinnipiac University poll found that while 70% of voters would be willing to vote for a gay Presidential candidate in a general election, only 36% feel that the country is ready for a gay President. However, Buttigieg has impressed a great many people and pundits alike, even certain Republicans. Until the issues with the police shooting in South Bend, he was performing rather well, better than expected. But in such a crowded field of candidates, any misstep or loss of momentum can derail a campaign.
There are also those in South Bend (and others in Indiana) who have pointed out that based upon his actions, Buttigieg appears to have already set his sites on landing a political position outside of South Bend. His run for DNC chairman in 2017, and now his Presidential run have given him substantial name recognition. This may well have always been the intent, though Buttigieg is performing much better than anyone expected. He’s already stated that he will not be seeking a third term as mayor, so his his political future remains unknown. Republican Senator Todd Young is up for re-election in 2022, which would give Buttigieg an opportunity to run for Young’s Senate seat. Many are also talking about Buttigieg being a potential Vice Presidential pick should he not win the nomination.
Whether or not he wins the nomination though, it is highly likely that this isn’t the last anyone will hear from Buttigieg, at least not here in Indiana. Buttigieg just might be the type of candidate Indiana’s ailing Democratic Party needs to win a statewide office. Indiana Democrats can only hope.