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Pete Buttigieg officially announces he is running for president: 'Let's make history'

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As South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg nears the end of 8 years in office and looks ahead to a presidential run, residents and council members reflect on his impact.
Jenna Watson, jenna.watson@indystar.com

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Pete Buttigieg officially entered the crowded 2020 presidential race Sunday, marking the young Midwestern mayor’s rise from political obscurity to a notable name in the Democratic field seeking to replace Donald Trump in the White House.

The openly gay millennial leader’s announcement capped a week of heightened media attention — driven in part by his criticisms of a fellow Hoosier, Vice President Mike Pence.

And in an unintentional nod to his ties to Pence, Buttigieg made his announcement at the Studebaker Building 84 — a former South Bend auto plant undergoing renovations because of a partnership between Pence and Buttigieg.

“It is time to walk away from the politics of the past and toward something totally different. … My name is Pete Buttigieg … and I am running for president of the United States.”

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“I recognize the audacity of doing this as a Midwestern millennial mayor, more than a little bold at age 37 to seek the highest office of the land,” he said.

Buttigieg called running for office “an act of hope.”

“Things will get better if we make them better,” he said, pointing to the Studebaker Building.

“Let’s get to work and let’s make history,” he said.

It was 35 degrees and raining in South Bend as supporters lined up Sunday to hear Buttigeig speak. Inside, some attendees wore hoods as water dripped down from the ceiling of the old building. 

But spirits were high as mayor after mayor introduced Buttigieg, who if elected, would be the first person to jump from mayor to the White House. 

Their point: Mayors get things done.

Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley pointed to the very building audience members stood in as an example of Buttigieg’s success. Buttigieg didn’t promise he would refill Studebaker with long-gone factory jobs, she said.

“Instead, he saw this piece of South Bend history as a symbol of its innovative future,” Whaley said.

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The Indiana GOP responded on Twitter to Buttigieg’s announcement minutes after his announcement.

“Finally, after over two years of bashing @realDonaldTrump, personally attacking Vice President @mike_pence, and neglecting his duties in South Bend, @PeteButtigieg announced what we all knew he was up to the whole time,” the party said.

The once little-known political figure has seen his popularity rise steadily since forming an exploratory committee in January. He’s released a New York Times-best-selling political memoir and took part in a well-received CNN town hall early last month, events that paid dividends in fundraising and name recognition.

In the past week, polls from both New Hampshire and Iowa — early-voting states for the Democratic nomination — showed Buttigieg in third among the party’s voters, behind only Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Vice President Joe Biden.

Similarly relevant in his ascendance is his biography. The 37-year-old Indiana native is a two-term mayor of a blue-collar city, a Rhodes scholar who graduated from Harvard and Oxford and a veteran of the U.S. Navy Reserve who took an unpaid leave of absence from the mayor’s office to serve in Afghanistan.

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Earlier this month, Buttigieg announced he raised $7 million in the first three months of 2019, more than well-known candidates such as Democratic Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker. In doing so, Buttigieg said, he crossed the donor threshold to be invited to Democratic debates set to start in June.

Brenda Emgee, of Newburgh, came to see Buttigieg speak with her daughter.

“He’s fresh, he’s new,” she said. “I don’t know whether I can say this or not, but he hasn’t had time to be corrupted.”

Buttigieg’s complex relationship with Pence

The public attention that helped yield that haul, however, has also brought him more criticism for his comments on Pence, particularlyin the past week, and led to a high-profile back-and-forth between the two Hoosiers and their supporters on homosexuality and religion.

Buttigieg criticized Pence last weekend at a LGBTQ Victory Fund event for his opposition to same-sex marriage.

“That’s the thing that I wish the Mike Pences of the world would understand,” said Buttigieg, who often references his own religious beliefs. “That if you have a problem with who I am, your problem is not with me. Your quarrel, sir, is with my Creator.”

Since then, Pence has defended himself and attacked Buttigieg for making comments “critical of my Christian faith.”

“He knows better,” Pence said in a CNBC interview that aired Thursday. “He knows me.”

But the success of renovations on the onetime eyesore where Buttigieg announced his candidacy Sunday illustrates the complex relationship between Buttigieg and Pence.

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Renovations on the building were made possible only by $3.5 million from an economic development program Pence championed in 2015 as governor — even pushing back on his own party.

In his book “Shortest Way Home,” Buttigieg took issue with Pence’s social policies but praised many of Pence’s economic policies and called him “affable, even gentle.”

And when Pence announced his attentions to pass the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which drew criticism from local and business leaders across the state who feared it would allow for discrimination, Buttigieg didn’t immediately confront him.

He did later become a vocal opponent, coming out as gay that same year.

Before Sunday announcement, Indiana GOP released a statement calling Buttigieg’s choice of location ironic. Buttigieg originally planned to host Sunday’s announcement outdoors but had to change plans due to the weather.

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“Buttigieg might be earning headlines for his mean-spirited attacks against our vice president in this who’s-the-most-liberal Democratic primary contest, but we know the truth,” said Kyle Hupfer, chairman of the Indiana Republican Party. “This Sunday’s announcement – and the very venue housing it – wouldn’t be possible without Mike Pence.”

Buttigieg has been outspoken about his religious beliefs, and how loving his husband has brought him closer to God. It was fitting that Buttigieg started his Palm Sunday announcement with a prayer from a local reverend. 

Daniel Roldan, a 36-year-old from Chicago, said he likes that Buttigieg expresses his religiosity, because he views himself as a progressive Christian.

“It’s refreshing,” he said. “For so long, I feel like Democrats and progressives were afraid to talk about religion, but if you look at the teachings of Jesus as I know them and as Pete has expressed them, it is helping the disadvantaged, helping women, helping people of color, helping LGBTQ people, immigrants and all of those groups.”

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Druet Cameron Klugh, center, has her photo taken by Chasten Buttigieg, left, with his husband Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and 2020 Democratic presidential candidate March 4, 2019, at the Public Library in downtown Iowa City, Iowa. Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Cit

  • South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg speaks to members of the media after his final State of the City address in South Bend, Ind. on Tuesday, March 12, 2019. After serving 8 years as mayor of South Bend, Buttigieg, 37, announced that he intends to run for election in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary.1 of 14
  • In this Jan. 10, 2019 photo, South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg, talks with an AP reporter at Farmers Market in South Bend, Ind.  (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)2 of 14
  • South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg watches as city council members are recognized before his annual State of the City address in South Bend, Ind. on Tuesday, March 12, 2019. After serving 8 years as mayor of South Bend, Buttigieg, 37, announced that he intends to run for election in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary.3 of 14
  • Mayor Pete Buttigieg looks around at Farmers Market in South Bend, Ind., Thursday, Jan. 10, 2019. At 37, Pete Buttigieg is just a few years older than the minimum age required to serve as president of the United States. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)4 of 14
  • Druet Cameron Klugh, center, has her photo taken by Chasten Buttigieg, left, with his husband Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and 2020 Democratic presidential candidate March 4, 2019, at the Public Library in downtown Iowa City, Iowa.5 of 14
  • South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg speaks during the U.S. Conference of Mayors Annual Winter Meeting in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 24, 2019. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)6 of 14
  • Presidential hopeful and South Bend Mayor, and now author, Pete Buttigieg, brings his Shortest Way Home book tour to Hine Hall on IUPUI campus, Sunday, Feb. 24, 2019.7 of 14
  • Presidential hopeful and former South Bend Mayor, and now author, Pete Buttigieg, brings his Shortest Way Home book tour to Hine Hall on IUPUI campus, Sunday, Feb. 24, 2019.8 of 14
  • South Bend Mayor Peter Buttigieg speaks to reporters on Monday March 18, 2013, about a Sunday plane crash in South Bend, Ind. Former Oklahoma quarterback Steve Davis and friend Wes Caves were the flight crew for the private jet that crashed into a northern Indiana neighborhood, killing Davis and Caves and injuring three others. (AP Photo/Joe Raymond)9 of 14
  • Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Ind., addresses the audience during the 2016 Indiana Democratic state convention at the Indiana Convention Center, Indianapolis, Saturday, June 18, 2016.10 of 14
  • In this March 27, 2015 file photo, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg speaks about the area's opposition to the recently signed religious freedom legislation in downtown South Bend.  Buttigieg has come out as gay in a newspaper editorial. The first-term Democratic mayor says in the personal essay published Tuesday, June 16  in the South Bend Tribune that he was well into adulthood before he was prepared to acknowledge that he's gay. (Greg Swiercz/South Bend Tribune via AP)11 of 14
  • South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg smiles and waves as he is greeted by family and friends Thursday, September 25, 2014, at Concourse A at South Bend International Airport in South Bend after returning from a seven-month tour serving in the U.S. Navy in Afghanistan. SBT Photo/GREG SWIERCZ12 of 14
  • South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg speaks to family and friends Thursday, September 25, 2014, at Concourse A at South Bend International Airport in South Bend after returning from a seven-month tour serving in the U.S. Navy in Afghanistan. SBT Photo/GREG SWIERCZ13 of 14
  • South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg speaks during the West Side Democratic  Civic Club Dyngus Day Celebration Monday afternoon.14 of 14

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Contributing: Maureen Groppe, USA TODAY.

Follow Kaitlin Lange on Twitter: @kaitlin_lange.

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  • Salley Ouellette, from Pendleton, S.C., takes a photo with Pete Buttigieg at the Greenville County Democrats monthly breakfast held at Upstate Circle of Friends on Mar. 23, 2019 in Greenville, S.C. Buttigieg announced his bid on April 14, 2019, to run for president.1 of 20
  • Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., holds his baby during the 116th Congress and swearing-in ceremony on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives in Washington on Jan. 3, 2019. Swalwell announced his bid on April 8, 2019, to run for president.2 of 20
  • Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, announced that he is running for president on Thursday, April 4, 2019. 3 of 20
  • Wayne Messam, the mayor of Miramar, Fla. and a former Florida State football player, announced his plans to run for president in a video released on March 28, 2019.4 of 20
  • Former Texas congressman  Beto O'Rourke announced he is running for president on March 14, 2019.5 of 20
  • Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper announced he is running for president on March 4, 2019.6 of 20
  • Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced he is running for president on March 1, 2019.7 of 20
  • Senator Cory Booker, D-NJ announced he was running for president on Feb. 1, 2019.8 of 20
  • South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg announced he was running for president on Jan. 23, 2019.9 of 20
  • Julian Castro, former U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary and San Antonio Mayor announced he was running for president on Jan. 12, 2019.10 of 20
  • Former Maryland Democratic Congressman John Delaney announced he was running for president on July 28, 2017.11 of 20
  • U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii announced she was running for president on Feb. 2, 2019.12 of 20
  • Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, D-NY announced she was running for president on Jan. 15, 2019.13 of 20
  • Supporters take photos with U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif. launched her presidential campaign on Jan. 27, 2019.14 of 20
  • Democratic Senator of Minnesota Amy Klobuchar announces that she is running for President of the United States on Feb. 10, 2019.15 of 20
  • Senator Bernie Sanders, I-VT, announced he was running for president on Feb. 19, 2019.16 of 20
  • Senator Elizabeth Warren, D-Ma, announced she was running for president on Feb. 9, 2019.17 of 20
  • Entrepreneur Andrew Yang is a Democrat running for President. He entered the race on Nov. 6, 2018.18 of 20
  • President Donald Trump filed for re-election the day he was inaugurated on Jan. 20, 2017.19 of 20
  • Former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld announced he's creating a presidential exploratory committee for a run in the 2020 election on Feb. 15, 2019 as a Republican.20 of 20

 

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