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Explainer: Who is Pete Buttigieg, the millennial mayor who's the breakout star of the Democratic race?

(It’s pronounced ‘Boot-Edge-Edge’.)

Election 2020 Pete Buttigieg Pete Buttigieg is joined by his husband Chasten. Source: Michael Conroy/PA Images

ONCE CONSIDERED THE also-ran with the unpronounceable name, people are starting to sit up and take notice of Pete Buttigieg.

The breakout star of the Democratic presidential contest officially announced his candidacy yesterday, but for weeks he’s been the talk of the campaign, rising from 1% to double-digits in some polling.

The 37-year-old is the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, a small city that is ranked as 299th largest in the United States.

Mayorships are not among the traditional political routes for presidents, with candidates usually coming from congress or a state governor’s office. If elected, Buttigieg would be the first mayor to go directly to the White House.

Despite his relatively young age, he’s even referred to himself as a millennial, Buttigieg has a stacked CV. (His name, by the way, is pronounced Boot-Edge-Edge).

Source: CBS News/YouTube

First elected as mayor at age 29, Buttigieg has since been re-elected and the blue-collar city has seen somewhat of a turnaround in that time.

During his first term, Buttigieg took a seven-month leave to go on active duty in Afghanistan as a lieutenant in the Navy Reserves.

Before that he was educated at both Harvard and Oxford and interned for Senator Ted Kennedy as well as volunteering for the campaigns of John Kerry and Barack Obama.

In short, he ticks a lot of political boxes.

Buttigieg is gay and is married to his husband Chasten, who’s been a central and visible part of his husband’s campaign, winning social media followers and also sharing insights from the trail.

If Buttigieg was to become the Democratic standard-bearer, he would be the first openly gay nominee of a major presidential party.

If he were to win outright, he would be the youngest president in history and the first in their 30s, turning 39 the day before he’s inaugurated.

Buttitgieg is acutely aware of all these potential “firsts”, telling the crowd in South Bend yesterday that it was: “More than a little bold, at age 37, to seek the highest office in the land.”

“I recognise the audacity of doing this as a Midwestern millennial mayor,” he said.

Hours later, more than a $1 million in donations had come in.

Buttigieg’s campaign raised more than $7 million in the first three months of this year, less than Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris and Beto O’Rourke – but more than rest of the big field. An impressive feat seeing as his campaign hadn’t officially started.

Even more impressive is his polling numbers, where he sits behind only Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden. The latter who has yet to firmly declare himself in or out.

Buttigieg’s move from outsider to contender has been driven by a string of strong media performances, including an appearance on Ellen and a CNN town hall event.

In the past week, he has been given national attention as part of a tit-for-tat with Vice President Mike Pence.

Pence was governor of Buttigieg’s home state of Indiana and the pair are understood to have had a cordial relationship. In his memoir, Buttigieg said the pair had a “complicated” relationship but recently he has been vocal in his attacks on Pence’s record on LGBT rights.

Pence has always argued that his view is in line with his religious faith but Buttigieg, who is himself religious, has made this his line of attack.

“If me being gay was a choice, it was a choice that was made far, far above my pay grade,” Buttigieg said recently.

And that’s the thing I wish the Mike Pences of the world would understand: that if you’ve got a problem with who I am, your problem is not with me. Your quarrel, sir, is with my creator.

In defence, Pence has said that his views are protected by the First Amendment right to religious beliefs.

Source: CNN/YouTube

Politically, Buttigieg’s platform consists of some planks in keeping with traditional Democratic policies but also some that are more ambitious.

The New York Times outlines that he’s in favour of government-backed health insurance and greater regulation of consumer data online. He’s also for a restructuring of the Supreme Court and the abolition of the Electoral College.

But before he has a chance to implement any of that, the big challenge for Buttigieg is to consolidate the gains he has made and to ensure he’s not simply a sidenote when the primaries actually start.

The first Democratic debates are in June and the first primaries will be in January 2020.

At this stage of the election cycle it’s common for the focus to be on a candidate for a while before the media looks elsewhere. Be that to the next bright young thing or someone older, a Joe Biden for example.

For now though, Buttigieg can be content that people are at least starting to says his name.

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About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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