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Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg is Gushing in the Democratic Presidential Elections

“After Donald Trump won, we all pledged never to write off anybody again, and I’m sticking to that,” said Larry Sabato, a University of Virginia political scientist. Buttigieg has “intense support,” especially on Twitter. “I think he's impressed people favorably.”

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Democratic 2020 U.S. presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg greets voters during a campaign stop at Portsmouth Gas Light, in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, March 8, 2019. VOA

Seems like just about no one can pronounce his name. But more and more people want to know about him.

Four months ago, Pete Buttigieg, the 37-year-old mayor of South Bend, Indiana, was a flat line on the political landscape outside of, well, Indiana. But after announcing a presidential exploratory committee in mid-January, he’s everywhere: CNN. Vox. Stephen Colbert. Bill Maher. New York Times. Washington Post. Fox. And CNN again.

While lacking in stature among a Democratic political field strewn with U.S. senators, House members, a former governor, and likely, a former vice president, Buttigieg boasts an impressive resume.

The son of an immigrant from Malta, Buttigieg attended Harvard College around the same time as Facebook founder and fellow millennial Mark Zuckerberg. He received a prestigious Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford University, spent seven months in Afghanistan in the U.S. Navy Reserves as an intelligence analyst and driver and worked as a consultant for McKinsey & Company. Reportedly he speaks seven languages, some of them fluently, including Spanish and Norwegian.

And in 2011, he was elected mayor of his hometown, South Bend, population 100,000.

“People are looking for something completely different,” Buttigieg told HBO talk-show host Maher when discussing his wildfire popularity a few weeks ago. “You could argue that it doesn’t get much different from [President Donald Trump] than a laid back, intellectual, young gay mayor from the Midwest.”

First openly-gay candidate for president

And while he would be the first openly gay candidate for president, recent polling shows that 70 percent of American voters said that wasn’t really an issue for them in deciding who to lead the country.

That has led Buttigieg to the No. 3 slot in two recent polls — behind former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders — that ask people whom they would vote for if the election were held today. A relatively inexperienced newcomer to national politics, he’s bubbled up among a very large field of very experienced candidates very quickly.

And before formally announcing his candidacy — although Buttigieg has tweeted followers to mark their calendars for April 14 — Buttigieg has raised $7 million so far and assured himself a spot in the Democratic presidential debates that begin in June. By comparison, Sanders raised $18.2 million over the first six weeks of his campaigning while Sen. Kamala Harris of California raised $12 million.

“Pete Buttigieg and his husband [Chasten Glezman Buttigieg] actually have both been able to leverage Twitter and all sorts of social media to help them separate themselves from the rest of this slate of candidates, which is a lot of older folks, a lot of senators, and elected officials who have been around for a little while,” said Leah Askarinam, reporter and political analyst for Inside Elections.

In the checkboxes of qualifications for presidential candidate, Buttigieg seems to light up the words “millennial,” “war in Afghanistan,” “Harvard” and “gay.” Younger voters seem to delight in “Mayor Pete’s” candidacy as “looking more like me” than elder competitors. He talks about climate change and abolishing the electoral college. A devout Catholic, Buttigieg makes going to church sound philosophical and cool rather than predatory.

FILE - South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg speaks to a crowd about his Presidential run during the Democratic monthly breakfast held at the Circle of Friends Community Center in Greenville, S.C.
South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg speaks to a crowd about his Presidential run during the Democratic monthly breakfast held at the Circle of Friends Community Center in Greenville, S.C. VOA

Trends well with all ages

He trends well with older voters, as well, His youthful exuberance and firm grasp of the issues is appealing not only to younger voters, but older Americans, too, who view him as a fresh breath of air or a brilliant grandson.

But his lack of experience running anything more than a small Midwestern city is a persistent issue during interviews. Wildly popular Stephen Colbert of “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” which garners 3.1 million viewers per episode seemed a bit skeptical about a young newcomer becoming leader of the free world.

“Not as big a leap as reality show to president,” Colbert added, referring President Donald Trump’s ascension from the star of his reality television show “The Apprentice” to the White House. “But you have to admit, a big leap …”

Jousting with Bill Maher

Talk-show host Bill Maher pushed Buttigieg about how well he could straddle issues that independents and undecided voters could get behind, saying Buttigieg’s keyword issues to young voters — like transgender bathrooms — are off-putting or irrelevant to older voters. While the nation last year shifted from Baby Boomers being the largest voting block to Millennials taking that weight, the transition for dominance has not been complete: Despite increased voter turnout among Millennials in the 2018 midterm elections, more Boomers go to the polls than Millennials.

Buttigieg’s signature response is that unity will bring more voters back to the center, rather than the political polarization the country seems trapped in now. The coastal and metropolitan Democratic party can seem condescending to Midwesterners on the fence over national direction, he said, and that needs to change.

“Look, if a wealthy, coastal, liberal professional goes up to a guy pumping gas in South Bend, maybe wearing one of those [Make America Great Again] red hats and says, ‘You know, you’re voting against your economic interests.’ You know what that guy is gonna say? He’s gonna say, ‘So are you.’” he told Maher.

As his popularity and appeal surge from a post-industrialized city in the Midwest, as he typically describes South Bend, the question is often asked if Buttigieg has the wherewithal to upset Biden or Sanders in the Democratic primaries or unseat a Republican president in the general election.

“It’s fair to say that he has earned the respect of people across the political spectrum. He’s a can-do kind of guy,” said dean of political science Dave Campbell at Notre Dame University in South Bend, who has met Buttigieg but is not part of his campaign or cause. “He’s definitely the kind of candidate who can speak across a lot of divides.”

FILE - Mayor Pete Buttigieg talks with an AP reporter at his office in South Bend, Ind., Thursday, Jan. 10, 2019.
Mayor Pete Buttigieg talks with an AP reporter at his office in South Bend, Ind., Thursday, Jan. 10, 2019. VOA

Rocky start in politics

“But he hasn’t had to face much Republican opposition,” he said. “South Bend is a blue dot in a very red sea.”

Buttigieg (whose name is pronounced boot-edge-edge) lost his bid for Indiana state treasurer in 2010. “I got clobbered. I got my head handed to me,” he chuckled to David Axelrod on Axelrod’s University of Chicago Institute of Politics podcast. Using failure as the best lesson, he said, he ran and won the mayor’s office in South Bend.

And now, improbably, Buttigieg has his eyes set on the biggest political prize of all.

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“After Donald Trump won, we all pledged never to write off anybody again, and I’m sticking to that,” said Larry Sabato, a University of Virginia political scientist. Buttigieg has “intense support,” especially on Twitter. “I think he’s impressed people favorably.”

“But that’s very different than actually winning the nomination, because there are real risks to nominating him for president. And I think that’s obvious to Democrats,” Sabato added.

“You know, there’s an old saying: Democrats fall in love. Republicans fall in line. I’ve learned that if Democrats fall in love with a candidate — and they might well do that with Pete Buttigieg — they can ignore all of the warnings and put him forward anyway. Well, it’s perfectly possible,” he said. “But one would think given their desire to beat Donald Trump, that they’d be less inclined to gamble on someone who, after all, has only had one public position. And that’s mayor of the 299th sized city in the United States.” (VOA)

Next Story

Advance Of Summit, NATO Pacify Trump

NATO also plans to consider a Franco-German proposal

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Flags of NATO member countries
Flags of NATO member countries are seen at the Alliance headquarters in Brussels, Belgium. VOA

As Britain prepares for the NATO leaders’ meeting outside London December 3-4, the alliance said Thursday it had agreed to redistribute costs and cut the U.S. contribution to its central budget.

NATO’s central budget is relatively small at around $2.5 billion a year, mostly covering headquarters operations and staff, and different than its defense budget. U.S. President Donald Trump often complains of inequitable burden-sharing, with only nine of the 29 member countries meeting the 2%  of gross domestic product target for the alliance’s defense spending.

Regarding the central budget, “The U.S. will pay less, Germany will pay more, so now the U.S. and Germany will pay the same,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said in Paris Thursday.

The United States currently pays about 22% of NATO’s central budget. Beginning 2021, both U.S. and Germany will contribute about 16%.

NATO also plans to consider a Franco-German proposal to create a working group of “respected figures” to discuss reform in the alliance and address concerns about its future.

The announcement to reduce the American contribution is seen as a move to placate Trump, who has considered withdrawing from the alliance but has since taken credit for its promised reforms.

“In 2016, only four allies spent 2%  of GDP on defense,” a senior administration official told reporters Friday, adding that there are now nine countries, including the U.S.,  meeting the 2% target, with 18 expected to do so by 2024.

“This is tremendous progress, and I think it is due to the president’s diplomatic work,” he said.

 U.S. forces from Syria, a move Trump made without consulting NATO
A convoy of U.S. vehicle is seen after withdrawing from northern Syria, on the outskirts of Dohuk, Iraq. VOA

Internal strife

Leaders of the 29 member states will attempt a show of unity during the summit but the alliance is facing questioning about its relevance and unity, particularly after the October withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria, a move Trump made without consulting NATO.

“It’s exactly in the wake of that decision that you had [French] President [Emmanuel] Macron say what he said about the alliance being ‘brain-dead’ and referencing the lack of American leadership in the sense of leading in a community and not just going out on your own,” said Gary Schmitt, a NATO analyst with the American Enterprise Institute.

U.S. troops’ withdrawal from Syria prompted Turkey to launch an offensive against Kurdish YPG militia in northern Syria. The move spurred Macron to vent his frustration over what French diplomats say is NATO’s lack of coordination at a political level, and triggered fear among allies that the assault will undermine the battle against Islamic State militants.

Meanwhile, a simmering war between Russia and Ukraine has become the backdrop of Trump’s impeachment, with the American president allegedly having withheld hundreds of millions of dollars of military aid to pressure the Ukrainian government to announce an investigation of former Vice President Joe Biden, a Democratic presidential candidate running against Trump. Kyiv needs the aid to counter Moscow’s aggression.

The two conflicts in Europe’s eastern and southern flank further complicate Washington’s already-strained relations with other NATO members. Meanwhile, despite American efforts to reassure European leaders of Washington’s continuing commitment, anxiety about U.S. neglect of NATO under Trump persists, said Hans Kundnani, Senior Research Fellow in the Europe Program at Chatham House.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, welcomes NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, left, welcomes NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg during their meeting in Kyiv, Ukraine. VOA

Kundnani noted a series of American officials who have come to reassure Europeans not to take Trump’s tweets too seriously and focus on what is happening on the ground, particularly the military reinforcement of NATO’s eastern flank. Still, Kundnani said that in the last year Europeans have started to realize it’s “not really good enough” and they’re now facing the “reality of the of the crisis in NATO.”

“Some of them are hoping that Trump will be out of office in in a year’s time but the real fear is that Trump wins a second term,” said Kundnani, adding that some Europeans are hoping that “U.S. gradual withdrawal from Europe” might “snap back to the status quo ante if Trump is not re-elected.”

Diverging European responses

“The upcoming celebration of NATO’s 70th anniversary will be marked by important divisions within the alliance — not just across the Atlantic, but also within Europe,” said Karen Donfried, president of the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

In Paris, the view is “strategic autonomy,” said Donfried, with many in France concluding that Washington’s security guarantee can no longer be relied on. Warsaw is promoting “strategic embrace”  developing close bilateral relationship with Trump to guarantee its own security, while Berlin is advocating “strategic patience.”

Germany in the middle is a little bit divided between the “Atlanticists” and the “post-Atlanticists,”   Kundani said, adding that “Europeans are very much arguing” about these approaches.

Donfried said that against this backdrop, NATO allies are approaching the London summit with a sense of foreboding, knowing that they carry the responsibility to articulate alliance’s common purpose and ongoing relevance.

“If they don’t, [Russian President Vladimir] Putin will be raising a glass in Moscow to the fraught state of the alliance at 70,” she said.

Another summit goal for most European leaders, is to simply avoid a Trump flare-up, like those that have happened in past meetings.

NATO meetings
President Donald Trump meets with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the United Nations General Assembly, New York. VOA

Many have discovered this can be achieved through flattery. “They can talk about all the things that they’ve done and very smartly suggest that President Trump has generated the kind of pressure to make those things happen,” Schmitt said.

“They can actually praise President Trump, even though this is very hard for them to do because of the personality clashes.”

Many will be watching Trump’s encounters with Macron, including their bilateral meeting, as well as with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Johnson has pleaded for Trump to stay out of the upcoming British election during his London trip.

The senior administration official said that Trump is “aware of this” and “absolutely cognizant of not wading into other countries’ elections.”

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Other potential clashes are simmering too. Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said Friday that Emmanuel Macron’s NATO “brain-death” warning reflects a “sick and shallow” understanding, telling the French president “you should check whether you are brain dead.”

The French foreign ministry has summoned Turkey’s ambassador to Paris to protest the statement. (VOA)