When Pete Buttigieg first appeared on the national political stage as one of the Democratic contenders, he seemed to be well equipped to run for Office. A young well-spoken mayor with elite credentials and military experience under his belt, Buttigieg quickly gained national prominence as a rising star of the Democrats. He basked in this new admiration of the media, piquing everyone’s interest whether the United States can elect its first openly gay President. Barack Obama once named him a future leader of the Democratic Party among others. He is currently one of the top-tier contenders in the crowded 2020 race. And his success is yet to be explained after he hit a few political roadblocks along the way.
One of the major critiques was his political inexperience that puts him at a disadvantage, considering that most of his competitors are seasoned politicians. He became a mayor of a small South Bend with fewer than 11 000 votes. Many questioned whether a presidential hopeful with a small victory in his hometown can manage to win the Democratic nomination, let alone the country. “Washington experience is not the only experience that matters. There’s more than 100 years of Washington experience on this stage, and where are we as a country?” said Buttigieg in an attempt to rebut this criticism. However, Senator Klobuchar (D-MN) quickly shut him down during the last Democratic debate in December, reminding him that Mayor Pete lost his statewide election for state treasurer by 20 points.
Buttigieg is also finding it hard to appeal to black voters, especially after a white police officer shot an African American in mayor’s South Bend last June. That prompted Pete to step off his campaign trail for a short while and cancel several events. Buttigieg expressed his remorse, acknowledging that his administration had not succeeded in efforts to recruit minority officers. However, his apology didn’t convince many, and the mayor was met with protests at a town hall in South Bend. “Are you really here because you care about blacks, or are you just here because you want to be the president?” one frustrated protestor yelled at Buttigieg.
Mayor Pete struggles to garner support from communities of color not only in his home state of Indiana but in other parts of the country as well. Only 1% of African Americans in South Carolina, a state with a substantial black population, back his campaign. His inability to appeal to voters of color across the United States highlighted and echoed in almost every publication, can easily call into question his qualification for the Oval House. And certainly – his claim for the nomination of the Democratic Party.
Buttigieg is not particularly liked by young millennials either despite him checking every box for a progressive. He supports the Green New Deal and the Paris Climate Accord. He advocates for universal background checks. He favors a single-payer healthcare system though he takes more middle of the road approach that doesn’t force people to opt in into a government plan and allows to keep their private insurance. More importantly, Mayor Pete supports the DACA program and would like to see a pathway to citizenship not only for those benefiting from it but for all 11 million illegal immigrants. He was the first presidential contender to propose reparations for separated at the border families.
And yet, Buttigieg is not so popular among young voters who tend to back left-leaning policies. The poll conducted by Harvard University’s Institute of Politics last fall showed that only 4% of likely voters aging between 18 and 29 favorably view his agenda, placing him in fifth place after Warren, Sanders, Biden and Yang. He is the third choice for young voters in the Iowa causes that are just a few weeks away.
This situation certainly puzzled Buttigieg and his campaign. He even confessed once that it’s hard for him to understand this pattern with his campaign being more appealing to older voters. After all, it happened when he ran for mayor of South Bend as well. Though he seems to understand why young people prefer other Democrats. “I was a big fan of Bernie Sanders when I was 18 years old,” Mayor Pete said CBS in one of the interviews.
What is interesting is that FiveThirtyEight recently placed Buttigieg second and third in Iowa and New Hampshire polls, respectively. He has been gaining his momentum in these key states for a while. “Pete has spent a lot of time in these places. One of the things we’ve found is the more people know Pete, the more they like him,” his spokesperson confirmed. However, these overwhelmingly white states don’t reflect the real picture Mayor Pete is facing. His numbers are much lower nationwide, putting him behind other contenders with more recognizable names. But if Barack Obama’s experience can teach us anything, we shouldn’t underestimate the early states because Iowa can help Buttigieg walk away with the Democratic nomination straight to the White House.