Pete Buttigieg is having a moment.
After appearing at an hour-long CNN Town Hall in Austin, Texas last week, Buttigieg is on the rise. Over the weekend, he received donations from 65,000 people, which automatically qualified him to appear at the Democratic National Committee’s debate this June. That’s a pretty major milestone for an out gay mayor of a smaller Midwest city, who a whole lot of Democrats probably couldn’t name at the beginning of the year.
The South Bend, Indiana mayor made a strong showing during the town hall, not only prompting a $600,000 surge of donations, but perhaps more importantly, Democrats and left-leaning independents wanting to know more about him. According to Google Trends, searches for his name have spiked in the last week.
Sure, Buttigieg, 37, would not be the first openly gay man to run for president (that was Fred Karger, running for the Republicans in 2012). And he has a great deal of name recognition to contend with among the pack of other candidates also vying for the Democratic ticket: Senators Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders, and potentially Vice President Joe Biden, to name a few, all of whom have been figures on the national stage for years.
Currently 62 percent of most likely Democratic primary voters say they’ve never heard of Buttigieg, according to a Morning Consult poll. He’s also polling at just one percent, tying for eight place with Montana Gov. Steve Bullock. Sure, it’s low, but Buttigieg was polling at zero percent at the end of February.
The same poll shows Buttigieg’s favorability at 13 percent and a relatively low “unfavorability” rating at 7 percent, while another 18 percent say they’ve heard of him but have no opinion.
With more eyes on Buttigieg, he’s been seizing the moment; many of the points made to CNN and elsewhere are things he’s been saying for some time, particularly, “I have more years of government experience under my belt than the president. I also have more years of executive government experience than the vice president, and more military experience than anybody to walk into that office on day one since George H. W. Bush.”
But notably, anecdotes about who he is as a person are trickling out. There was that time, according to Time reporter Anand Giridharadas, that Buttigieg started speaking Norwegian to a journalist at the drop of a hat, explaining that he learned the language to read the books of an author whose work was only available in Norwegian. His remarks to the Muslim people in his community after the deadly shooting in New Zealand were more articulate than President Trump’s reaction to the extremist’s actions. And of course, there are Buttigieg memes.
— Eric Williams (@Eric_Williams_1) March 18, 2019
Democrats shouldn’t discount the unprecedented excitement for an out, gay candidate being taken seriously. He may be polling at one percent now, but there was a time not too long ago that even having an openly gay man running for president would be laughable at best, and at worst, opening him up for ignorant treatment or threats of violence.
All of this is to say, Buttigieg is riding a wave. Will he ride it all the way to the White House? With a crowded field and low name recognition, his chances aren’t exactly high. Still, Democrats couldn’t pick a more stark opponent for the Vice Presidential debates in fall 2020: Buttigieg versus Pence? We’d like to see it.