Pete Buttigieg Rides a Presidential Boomlet

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South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg, with Political Breakdown hosts Scott Shafer and Marisa Lagos.  (Guy Marzorati/KQED)

When Democrat Pete Buttigieg announced he was exploring a run for president earlier this year, you could hardly blame anyone who asked "president of what?" or "who's he?"

The Mayor of South Bend, Indiana recently turned 37 and looks even younger, but his exploratory campaign is picking up steam as a sold out appearance with "Mayor Pete" at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco this week demonstrated.

Buttigieg (pronounced BOOT-edge-edge) is more than a fresh face. He's the nation's first openly gay presidential candidate whose husband travels with him and is introduced at every stop. He's also a former Rhodes scholar, a military veteran who served in Afghanistan and as if that weren't enough he's also fluent in seven languages, including Norwegian.

"I think it's the time for this generation to put forward new voices," Buttigieg told KQED Politics Editor Scott Shafer and Political correspondent Marisa Lagos. "And we just haven't had a lot of voices like mine: the voice of the midwestern millennial mayor at a time when our country is being run into the ground by a coastal billionaire who seems to think that the future is somebody else's problem."

After weeks of campaign stops with increasingly enthusiastic crowds and a spate of refreshingly on-point TV appearances, the candidate with the "boy next door" demeanor is raising cash and rising in the polls.


"I think we're at a hinge point between the beginning of an era that will last decades," Buttigieg said. "And the choices that are made right now are going to matter for the rest of the time that I'm alive."

Before the Buttigieg boomlet gained full speed, the progressive Democrat sat down with Shafer and Lagos on KQED's weekly show Political Breakdown. They discussed, among other things,  his run for the presidency, how coastal Democrats view mid-westerners, serving as mayor while deployed in Afghanistan, his notion of "inter-generational justice" and coming out as gay during his first term.

"There are some folks I encounter here who seem to have trouble believing things like Trump voters actually exist," Buttigieg said. "I feel sometimes like I'm an emissary from the middle of the country just pointing out that things look a little bit different in rural communities, in industrial communities like mine, and that we really need to find ways to knit this picture back together into one America."