January 23, 2019 at 11:02 am EDT | by Chris Johnson
Gay mayor, veteran Pete Buttigieg signals entry into 2020 fray
Pete Buttigieg, gay news, Washington Blade
Pete Buttigieg has formed an exploratory committee to run for president in 2020. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Pete Buttigieg, a combat veteran and mayor of South Bend, Ind., has signaled he plans to throw his name into the pool of 2020 presidential candidates, raising the possibility of a Millennial and an openly gay candidate joining the growing Democratic field.

Buttigieg announced in a video Wednesday he’s forming an exploratory committee for a 2020 bid, which is considered the first step in running for president.

Speaking to viewers as images of small town America and farmland pan across the screen, Buttigieg says in the video, “There’s no going back and there’s no such thing as again in the real world.”

“We can’t look for greatness in the past,” Buttigieg says. “Right now our country needs a fresh start.”

As Buttigieg touts having “propelled our city’s comeback by taking our eyes off the rearview mirror,” one image in the video shows Buttigieg walking through an abandoned, dilapidated warehouse that suddenly converts to a modernized, polished building. 

Another image displays Buttigieg with his spouse, Chasten Glezman, as they make dinner and pet the family dog.

“I belong to a generation that is stepping forward right now,” Buttigieg says. “We’re the generation that lived through school shootings, that served in the wars after 9/11. And we’re the generation that stands to be the first to make less than our parents.”

Born in 1982, Buttigieg would represent not only the LGBT community, but Millennials in the 2020 presidential field. A Rhodes Scholar who graduated magma cum laude from Harvard University in 2004, Buttigieg has served as mayor of South Bend, Ind,, since 2012. Commissioned as a naval intelligence officer in 2009, Buttigieg deployed to Afghanistan in 2013 and remains a lieutenant in the Naval Reserve.

In 2010, Buttigieg tried his hand at statewide office and ran to become Indiana State Treasurer, but came up short against incumbent Richard Mourdock after obtaining just 37.5 percent of the vote.

Buttigieg first rose to national prominence when he ran in 2017 to become chair of the Democratic National Committee. His performance in the debates impressed political pundits as well as former President Obama, who met with Buttigieg. (Buttigieg ended up withdrawing from the race and endorsing Keith Ellison, who lost to DNC Chair Tom Perez.)

In a February 2017 interview with the Washington Blade at the newspaper’s office in D.C., Buttigieg talked in the aftermath of Hillary Clinton’s loss in 2016 about the importance of the Democratic Party connecting with the heartland of America.

“For a party that really needs to reconnect across our 50-plus states and territories, I think I’m in a better position than most to deliver on that based on my experience, based on my bread and butter, which is local government and political organizing,” Buttigieg said.

Serving as a mayor in the Midwest, Buttigieg has sometimes taken a nuanced approach to criticism of the Trump administration. When students at Notre Dame University staged a walk out during Vice President Mike Pence’s commencement speech over his anti-LGBT views, Buttigieg told the Blade he “of course” backs the students and their reasons for protest, but still has “respect the office of the vice presidency, too.”

Buttigieg isn’t the first openly gay person to seek a major party’s nomination for president. Gay activist Fred Karger unsuccessfully sought the Republican nomination in a long-shot bid in 2012.

However, Buttigieg could become the first candidate the LGBTQ Victory Fund, which has worked to support LGBT candidates since its founding in 1991, endorses for president. (Former Victory Fund CEO Chuck Wolfe told the Blade in 2014 that a qualified LGBT candidate would run for the White House “within the next five presidential cycles, which is the next 20 years.”)

Annise Parker, former mayor of Houston and current CEO of the LGBTQ Victory Fund, said in a statement Buttigieg’s candidacy “would be a welcome contribution” to the 2020 field.

“And while he is not running on his sexual orientation, his presence will undoubtedly elevate LGBTQ issues in the Democratic primary,” Parker added. “LGBTQ voters are an important part of the primary base, and with Mayor Buttigieg on the campaign trail and on the debate stages, other Democratic presidential candidates will need to be outspoken and well-versed on LGBTQ equality issues.”

Parker added Buttigieg is “well-positioned for this political movement” and “brings a sense of optimism and American solidarity that is entirely absent from the current national dialogue.”

“He brings a unique set of skills and values to the race as a successful two-term executive, a first-generation American and a gay war veteran from a deep red state,” Parker concluded. “Mayor Buttigieg understands that Americans are tired of politics as blood-sport and instead want politicians to address real issues affecting real lives. He sees the similarities between the blue-collar worker in Indiana, the undocumented immigrant in Arizona, and the young lesbian in middle school in rural Virginia – and he believes with strong leadership all their lives can be improved. Our country is in crisis and it is essential diverse perspectives are heard in this presidential race.”

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. Follow Chris

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