On January 1, 2012, Pete Buttigieg was sworn in as the Mayor of South Bend Indiana. This was not a role known for boosting candidates into national politics. Before Buttigieg, no South Bend Mayor had taken state or federal office since Joe Kernan left office in 1997. Buttigieg was elected to his first term with 74% of the vote.
In 2015, controversy spun over the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, signed into law by then-Governor Mike Pence. Buttigieg was vocal about his opposition to the bill, which was criticized for permitting LGBTQ+ discrimination. During this discussion surrounding intolerance and his campaign for a second term, Buttigieg came out as gay. He then won reelection with 80% of the vote.
Buttigieg was a “hot topic” when he came out, but wasn’t on the “national stage” quite yet. This changed when he ran for the Democratic nomination for president in 2020—a race he knew he would not win. A drop-out candidate for Chairman of the Democratic National Committee would not go after the presidential nomination just two years later—unless his goal wasn’t to win. It was to build name recognition and national support.
Amidst widespread criticism of his inexperience and improbable victory, he managed to build a base that celebrated both his policy and sexuality. While polarization was growing within the party, Buttigieg tried to find a middle path; he agreed with Sanders on issues like the abolition of the electoral college, while he joined President Biden in opposing a single-payer healthcare system. Buttigieg attracted national attention from both sides of the party.
Buttigieg was undoubtedly one of the most well-spoken contenders for the nomination. He even received a standing ovation while appearing on the conservative-leaning Fox News and attracted attention from President Trump, who tweeted, “Hard to believe that @FoxNews is wasting airtime on Mayor Pete.” Throughout the campaign, he was a shining star and secured big wins in the first two contests of the primary in Iowa and New Hampshire.
When he did not acquire such big successes in Nevada and South Carolina, Buttigieg kept in mind that this was only the beginning for him. He endorsed Biden just one day after he dropped out, giving Biden an edge hours before Super Tuesday. At the time, Buttigieg had the third most delegates in the race (26), following only Sanders (60) and Biden (54). However, he dropped out before many other more-poorly performing contenders, like Elizabeth Warren. The loyalty he showed here was remembered and admired by the Biden campaign, along with supporters of the President-elect.
Buttigieg hardly disappeared after his campaign ended though. He gave a powerful speech at the Democratic National Convention, was on the advisory council of the Biden-Harris transition team (where he was called “the Biden campaign’s ruthless secret weapon” by the Los Angeles Times), and was later tapped by Biden to lead the Department of Transportation, a crucial role in a presidential cabinet.
I can see multiple roles for Buttigieg in the future, but none are located in his home state of Indiana. As a safe Republican state, Buttigieg’s probability of winning a statewide race (like Governor or Senator) is immensely slim. I can see Vice President Harris tapping Buttigieg as her running mate in a 2024 or 2028 presidential campaign (depending on if Biden runs for another term). An early endorsement from Buttigieg would propel her forward against strong primary challengers, and this quid-pro-quo would keep Buttigieg out of the race and forbid him from taking votes from Harris. I see Buttigieg as one of her most likely running mates, after Roy Cooper of North Carolina and former Beto O’Rourke.
Additionally, he could move to another state, earn favorability among the community, and run for statewide office. Hillary Clinton famously did this in New York and was accused of carpetbagging, but I would be proud to have Buttigieg represent me in office. Finally, I would be surprised if this was Buttigieg’s last bid for the White House. At half the age of Biden with an already-strong base, he is bound to grow.
Yes, he may have lost the nomination for president, but he came out more well-known, admired, and experienced than before. It is undeniable that this is only the beginning for Pete Buttigieg.