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


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.

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, particularly in 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."

What Buttigieg now faces as a candidate

Buttigieg's move from an exploratory committee to a formal candidacy comes with notable new benefits and constraints.

One advantage, pundits say, is political in nature: It gives that person two chances to dominate the news cycle. Another is that Buttigieg is free to actually call himself a candidate, pay for political advertising and polling, in order to raise money.

On that front, though, there are new rules, too. Unlike with the exploratory committee, he'll have to file regular campaign finance reports.

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Jan. 23: South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg joins 2020 presidential race with exploratory committee

Contributing: Maureen Groppe, USA TODAY.

Follow Kaitlin Lange on Twitter: @kaitlin_lange.

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Pete Buttigieg officially announces he is running for president: 'Let's make history'


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