Pete Buttigieg is 37 years old and the mayor of a town the size of Ballarat. (Instagram: Chasten Buttigieg)
Pete Buttigieg is exactly who US political reporters want to write about.
He is not Donald Trump, for one thing. Nor is he Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren.
One of a bloated (and still swelling) field of democratic 2020 contenders, Mr Buttigieg offers bored journalists a fresh face and a new name.
Yet there’s more to his narrative.
If Mr Buttigieg was to be elected, he’d be the first to go from mayor to president — and the Mayor of a town roughly the size of Ballarat to boot.
He would be the youngest president and the first millennial, stepping into the office at age 39.
He’d be the first openly gay president.
Oh, and did we mention he’s also the underdog? Or at least he was. The media’s fascination with Mr Buttigieg has, in turn, fuelled support for his candidacy.
He went from polling at less than 1 per cent in February to hovering around 10 per cent in late April.
For reference, Joe Biden has consistently held the top spot around 29 per cent. Two state polls have seen Mr Buttigieg creep up into third.
He is generating intense online search interest and attracting rally crowds so large that they reportedly throw him off his stump speech.
And Mr Buttigieg is spinning all that excitement into fundraising dollars.
In the first quarter of this year, he raised $10 million, putting him ninth in a pack of 21 Democrats vying to run against Mr Trump.
Rupert Murdoch’s son, James, was among the wealthy supporters who wrote Mr Buttigieg a cheque.
Actress and lifestyle blogger Gwyneth Paltrow is hosting a fundraiser for him, as are a slew of gay Hollywood A-listers.
@PeteButtigieg This is just a preliminary analysis, but our team’s initial report shows we raised over $7 million dollars in Q1 of this year.
In other words, the long shot is looking more and more like a viable contender.
But it’s still very early in the race.
As the media drives more and more buzz about Mr Buttigieg, he still has to clear quite a few hurdles to clinch the nomination — let alone the presidency.
Too young, too gay, too elite?
Pete Buttigieg and his husband Chasten at a rally to announce his candidacy in April 2019. (Reuters: John Gress)
Mr Buttigieg lives in South Bend, Indiana, one of the heartland’s swing regions where the election will be won or lost, but he speaks the language of the coastal elites.
His parents worked as professors at Harvard University and Mr Buttigieg made his own pilgrimage to the east coast in his 20s.
He returned home with trophies like a Rhodes Scholarship and a “global business consultant” line on his resume.
He also finished first in his class at Oxford University.
In 2011, he became America’s youngest mayor at age 29, after winning in a landslide election in his hometown of South Bend, Indiana.
Pete Buttigieg served for seven months in Afghanistan as a lieutenant in the Navy Reserve. (Twitter: Pete Buttigieg)
He was lauded for taking seven months of leave from his mayoral role to serve in the military in Afghanistan, and earned the Joint Service Commendation medal.
In 2015, he came out as a gay man in a letter to his local newspaper.
“Being gay has had no bearing on my job performance in business, in the military, or in my current role as mayor. It makes me no better or worse at handling a spreadsheet, a rifle, a committee meeting or a hiring decision,” he wrote.
Five months after he came out, he was re-elected for a second term with 80 per cent of the vote.
Despite his accomplishments, plenty of people say he is too young to take on the big office.
Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg (right) and his husband Chasten Glezman. (AP: Jae C Hong)
Running a country of 327 million people is quite a leap from governing a town of 102,000.
Mr Buttigieg retorts by saying he would still have more executive experience than the current President.
And he says it is time for a new generation — one that grew up in the age of school shootings, climate change and recession-related economic hardship — to take the reins.
If he won, he’d join the ranks of other young world leaders, including 38-year-old Jacinda Ardern in New Zealand and 41-year-old Emmanuel Macron in France.
On top of his age, Mr Buttigieg’s sexual preference has emerged as a major talking point.
Pete and Chasten Buttigieg were married in a church service in June 2018. (Instagram: Chasten Buttigieg)
Some say the country’s not ready for a gay president, while others have controversially claimed that he is not gay enough.
@jakebackpack Folks, I wrote about Pete Buttigieg, palatable gays, class, and lying about meeting your man on Grindr.
Mayor Pete’s husband looks to be more of a political help than a hindrance.
Chasten Buttigieg, a South Bend school teacher, is a Twitter phenomenon.
A sassy and constant presence, he is building his following as fast as freshman Democratic congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio Cortez.
As well as regularly posting about his adoration for his husband, Chasten Buttigieg shares his views on Harry Potter and pictures of the couple’s rescue dogs.
Needless to say, he’s pretty popular as far as 2020 spouses go.
But the candidate, too, comes with plenty of internet-worthy party tricks.
He can recite passages of his favourite novel, James Joyce’s Ulysses, from memory.
He can play the piano decently and he speaks eight languages (though only proficiently enough to order a sandwich, he explained).
A video of Mr Buttigieg speaking impromptu Norwegian kept the internet entertained for a few days.
@daveweigel A Norwegian outlet is here and asked @PeteButtigieg to speak the language. And he did!
Never mind that all he really said was “sorry, I’ve forgotten a lot of Norwegian.”
And never mind that other candidates are just as intellectual.
Kirsten Gillibrand, for example, can speak Mandarin more fluently than Mr Buttigieg can speak anything but English.
Yet, as the New York Times put it, “Mandarin can be written off as the resume-building accomplishment of a striver”.
“Norwegian, which has no practical value for an American president, is taken as a sign of intellectual curiosity and authenticity — the sort of whimsical surplus achievement that often upstages workaday accomplishments.”
No national policy record is a blessing and a curse
Mr Buttigieg is a progressive, but he has found a somewhat moderate lane in a field that’s swerving ever-more to the left.
Mostly though, his policy positions are unformed.
He cautiously avoids attacks on Mr Trump or on other Democratic candidates vying to take him on.
Critics say that when pressed on important issues, he offers a mix of bland Democratic talking points or agrees that more radical ideas could be considered.
So far, it is seemingly forgivable for a candidate who’s only just stepping onto the national stage.
As a two-term mayor, Mr Buttigieg’s political record boasts fixing potholes, cleaning up parks and modernising a sewage system.
It’s not exactly healthcare or immigration, but it does look a lot like actual ‘getting stuff done’ in an age where nothing at the national level seems to be functioning.
The bottom line: In the jam-packed presidential field, Mr Buttigieg’s glaring lack of policy experience could, maybe, be counted among his best assets. He comes with no baggage.
Although, the last time a mayor won a party’s nomination was in 1812, and New York City’s DeWitt Clinton failed to win the presidency.
The last mayor to win a party nomination was NYC mayor DeWitt Clinton in 1812. Pete Buttigieg wants to be the second. (Wikimedia Commons)
Even national celebrities like former NYC mayor Rudy Giuliani have been unable to follow in DeWitt Clinton’s footsteps.
Could Mayor Pete be the perfect foil for President Trump?
Picture Pete Buttigieg and Donald Trump standing side by side on the debate stage.
Mr Trump is loud and brash and has been known to speak in a baffling stream of consciousness.
Mr Buttigieg is calm, monotone and cogent to the brink of banal.
Mr Trump’s past boasts a glittering surfeit of New York celebrities and cocktail parties, wealth and scandal.
Mr Buttigieg can speak to life in the Rust Belt and Episcopalian church services, economic stagnation and apple pie.
One is accused of being a draft dodger; the other volunteered for duty.
One never shies away from a good fight; the other avoids drama.
One is old; the other is … you get the picture, right?
Pete Buttigieg has gone from virtual unknown to the third most popular Democratic contenders in early primary states. (Reuters: Elijah Nouvelage)
In America, elections aren’t just about qualifications.
They’re about appealing to the aspirations of everyday people.
Yes, Pete Buttigieg is the opposite of Donald Trump.
Yes, Pete Buttigieg offers the internet endless eruditions and serves up endless bait for Trump-weary attentions.
Yes, Pete Buttigieg appeals to the aspirations of political journalists who, for better or worse, tend to fit a demographic that’s more similar to an ambitious intellectual than the greater country.
But can this gay, millennial, Norwegian-speaking Rhodes Scholar appeal to the former Trump supporter?
Can he appeal to the black working mother on food stamps or the retrenched auto worker in Ohio or, really, anyone other than educated coastal elites?
With months left before the Democratic primaries, the media will get to those questions soon enough.