Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg joins 2020 presidential race with exploratory committee

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South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg officially launched his campaign for president with a video message promising to bring a "fresh start" to the White House.

"The reality is there's no going back," Buttigieg said in the video. "There's no such thing as 'again' in the real world. We can't look for greatness in the past.

"Right now, our country needs a fresh start."

The 37-year-old Democrat has been widely hailed as a rising star in national politics since his unsuccessful 2017 run for Democratic National Committee chairman.

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Buttigieg (pronounced boot-edge-edge) was elected South Bend's mayor in 2012. In the video he points to national headlines that once called South Bend a dying city. He led the city of 100,000 residents to a comeback, he said, "by taking our eyes off the rear-view mirror."

South Bend's economic turn-around is a blueprint for what could be done across America, Buttiegieg said. 

Buttegieg, just 29 when he was elected, is the youngest mayor of a U.S. city with at least 100,000 residents.

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Appealing to young voters

In the video, Buttigieg uses his age as a way to connect with young voters.

"I belong to a generation that is stepping forward right now," Buttigieg says in the video. "We're the generation that lived through school shootings, that served in wars after 9/11, and we're the generation that stands to be the first to make less than our parents unless we do something different."

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The video shows Buttigieg and his middle school teacher husband in their kitchen, arms around each other, and on the couch with a dog. Buttigieg came out as gay in 2015 and married Chasten Glezman in June.

Should he emerge ahead of other Democratic hopefuls, Buttigieg would be the first openly gay presidential nominee from a major political party.

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'A shot worth taking'

Buttigieg has the odds stacked against him, said Andy Downs, director of the Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics.

"He is a long shot, but this could be a shot worth taking," Downs said. "Even if he doesn’t earn the nomination, he will continue to raise his national profile."

Losing could be still a win for Buttigieg, Downs said.

"If he is able to beat expectations in terms of polling, acceptance by party leaders ... and raising money, he could find a number of doors opening up for him," Downs said.

Buttigieg is a Rhodes scholar and an officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve. He worked for consulting firm McKinsey & Co. before becoming mayor of the Rust Belt city.

Buttigieg served a tour in Afghanistan in 2014. The video includes photos of him wearing camouflage fatigues apparently taken while on duty.

South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg speaks to the media, after deciding to run for the Democratic National Committee Chair in January 2017.

Getting his name out

He is releasing a book in February about his life and his tenure leading South Bend. He's been featured in profiles in national media, including the Washington Post Magazine on Jan. 14 headlined: "Could Pete Buttigieg Become the First Millennial President?"

Buttigieg has been gradually raising his national profile before announcing he would not seek a third term as South Bend's mayor in December. He's visited Iowa and other battleground states in recent years in an effort to build national support and name recognition.

In an email to media Wednesday, Republican National Committee spokesman Michael Ahrens said Buttigieg should focus on filling potholes and reducing crime before he "wastes time on a presidential campaign."

"His bid isn't just bad news for residents," Aherns said, "it's more proof that Democrats are about to endure the most crowded, divisive and contentious primary in history."

Buttigieg is expected to meet voters in Iowa next week, followed by stops in New Hampshire.

Associated Press reporter Sara Burnett contributed to this story.

Call IndyStar reporter Vic Ryckaert at 317-444-2701. Follow him on Twitter: @VicRyc.

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