SOUTH BEND, Ind. — South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg officially announced he is running for president of the United States on Sunday to a hometown crowd waving small American flags, chanting “Pete,” and sounding out “Boot edge edge.”
About 4,500 people cheered as rain fell through the ceiling of the Studebaker Building 84, a retired manufacturing building revitalized as a technology hub representing South Bend’s revival since Buttigieg took office in 2012.
“This city’s story is such a big part of why I’m doing this,” he told the crowd.
Buttigieg’s announcement makes him the eighteenth Democrat to enter the 2020 race, which is one of the largest and most diverse fields in modern political history. If elected, the 37 year old would be the youngest and first openly gay president.
His speech drew from personal experience to emphasize how decisions in Washington affect individuals: Medicaid helped his father when he was in the hospital and a single Supreme Court vote allowed his marriage to exist.
Buttigieg said three principles will guide his campaign: freedom, security and democracy.
“Simple enough to fit on a bumper sticker,” he said.
Regarding freedom, he spoke about racial justice, empowering teachers, women’s equality, organized labor and living life as one chooses.
“Take it from Chasten and me,” he said, gesturing to his husband in the audience who has been a prominent part of his campaign.
The two kissed on stage after the speech, grinning and holding hands before the roaring crowd.
On security, he talked about borders, cybersecurity, election security and climate change, which he said might be the greatest security issue of this time.
And he spoke about a democratic system which he said lately hasn’t been quite democratic enough, hinting at a popular vote system instead of the Electoral College.
“We can’t say it’s a democracy when twice in my lifetime the Electoral College has overruled the will of the American people,” he said.
Many in the crowd wore square “Pete 2020” stickers. South Bend resident Willow Wetherall wore a yellow hat covered in mini campaign signs she made with her 13- and 9-year-old children.
“It’s a little way that I could bring them on the journey with me,” she said.
Since announcing his exploratory committee in late January, Buttigieg has received a surprising amount of media attention for a mayor previously little known on the national stage. He ranked third in a Saint Anselm College poll of New Hampshire voters last week, only behind former Vice President Joe Biden, who has yet to formally announce a campaign, and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.
Buttigieg quickly received more than 65,000 donations following a CNN Town Hall in March, earning him a spot in the first Democratic primary debate in June.
On April 1, Buttigieg announced he had raised more than $7 million in the first quarter of 2019, outdoing Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Cory Booker, D-N.J., according to an ABC News Analysis.
Wetherall, the woman with the yellow hat, said there’s been a bit of a starstruck quality around Mayor Pete as his momentum builds. She has lived in South Bend for 18 years, is interim director of the Women’s Entrepreneurship Initiative and just spent four years developing the building in which Buttigieg spoke.
“He’s so familiar, and suddenly we’re seeing him on the national spotlight,” Wetherall said.
Buttigieg has been the mayor of South Bend since 2012, and took a seven-month unpaid leave in 2014 to serve in the war in Afghanistan. He graduated from Harvard University, was a Rhodes Scholar at the University of Oxford and speaks seven languages.
Buttigieg ran to chair the Democratic National Committee in 2017 but withdrew his name minutes before the vote.
Former President Barack Obama named Buttigieg a potential party leader after the 2016 election, and Buttigieg’s rising stardom was likened by MSNBC host Joe Scarborough in March to Obama himself.
Renee Ferguson, a retired Chicago journalist and one of many longtime friends to introduce Buttigieg on Sunday, said she remembered media having similar problems pronouncing Buttigieg’s last name now as they had pronouncing the name of a man she knew from Chicago. That man was Obama.
“Buttigieg, Buttigieg,” the crowd cheered.
Despite his national popularity, critics question whether Buttigieg’s experience leading a city of about 100,000 will be enough to propel him to the presidency.
Mayors from Dayton, Ohio, West Sacramento, California, and Austin, Texas, introduced Buttigeig and spoke to the importance of local leadership.
Buttigieg frequently notes the importance of creating policies that will be relevant in 2054, the year he will reach the age of President Trump.
“This time calls for a new generation of leadership in our country,” he told the crowd.
South Bend residents Angie Faccenda and her husband Phil have known Buttigieg personally since he ran for state treasurer nine years ago.
“He’s done a lot for us in South Bend,” Faccenda said.
The couple snapped a selfie in front of the Pete 2020 backdrop as they waited for the program to begin. Faccenda said she thinks people will appreciate that Buttigieg is an underdog.
“He’s not just South Bend,” she said. “He’s not just Indiana.”
Standing in a building that was once a symbol of his city’s decline, Buttigieg told the crowd how running for office is an act of hope. Supporting someone running for office is an act of hope, too, he said.
“Let’s get to work, and let’s make history,” he said.