Pete Buttigieg, the youngest Democratic presidential candidate, says it's time for the ‘newer generation' to lead
During his overnight drive into Iowa from Indiana, Pete Buttigieg logged onto Twitter to pass the time.
“Good time to chat: any questions?” he typed.
Among the nearly 600 responses, one user took the opportunity to ask the South Bend, Indiana, mayor for advice on how to bring positive change to his home state.
“Start local, and don’t wait for permission,” Buttigieg wrote back.
In some ways, Buttigieg could have been talking about himself in Iowa this weekend and his run for the White House. Friday marked Buttigieg’s first trip to the lead-off caucus state since announcing last month that he would launch a presidential exploratory committee.
Buttigieg is relatively unknown in Iowa, and he joins a crowded Democratic field of potentially more popular presidential hopefuls. The field, which has female candidates, African-American candidates, candidates of Hispanic and Asian origin, and candidates who are the children of immigrants, is considered the most diverse in history.
Buttigieg believes there’s an opening for him to walk through that crowd.
More:Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg joins 2020 presidential race with exploratory committee
“We’re certainly starting local here and we’re not kind of looking to fit a traditional model of waiting your turn,” he said, a nod to the fact that Buttigieg has not served in federal office. “But there is a lot to be said for reaching out, laying your groundwork, getting to know people, listening, especially in these early stages.”
He added: “What I’m already finding is Iowans clearly take this first-in-the-nation role very seriously, and, as a consequence, they ask really perceptive questions that, I think, will help me shape my thinking.”
Among the public inquiries that peppered Buttigieg’s appearances Friday were his stances on Medicare for All and the "Green New Deal," issues that are evolving into a litmus test for presidential candidates. He supports them both, though he wants more time before releasing his specific vision for such proposals.
A lieutenant in the Navy Reserve who was deployed to Afghanistan in 2014, Buttigieg was also asked about issues like veterans care, abortion, religion, student loan debt and LGBTQ protections.
Buttigieg’s potential run would be historic. He would be the first openly gay president, if elected. At 37, he would also be the youngest.
"Frankly, if you'd asked me 10 years ago, I would've believed that either you could be out or you could be in politics. Not both," he told a crowd in Ankeny. "And now I'm addressing a room full of people in Iowa about my hopes for our country with my husband looking on in the back of the room."
The remark got a round of applause.
Buttigieg thinks his age and experience, including as mayor, are assets. He feels empowered to speak for a generation — his generation — that he believes must work together to tackle the effects of issues like climate change, school shootings, and income and tax inequalities.
“These issues are up close and personal,” he told an audience in Ames. “But it’s not about a young candidate for young Americans. It’s about a young candidate representing what I think all of our generations want.”
More:A guide to Democrats eyeing a 2020 run and what likely Iowa caucusgoers think of them
He later told reporters: “I think it’s time for a newer generation to put forward leaders.”
Buttigieg’s message resonated with Susie Petra, an Ames resident who did not give her age but admitted she is in her 70s.
“I do think new ideas have to come from people younger than I am. And I think their investment in what happens to this country, and what happens globally, is even more long term than mine,” she said.
Buttigieg's husband, Chasten, an educator in Indiana, came along for the Iowa trip. He received multiple shout-outs from his husband. The couple married last year.
Chasten Buttigieg said he and his husband face real-world problems such as a family member's cancer diagnosis and student loan debt.
“All these decisions that lawmakers are making affect he and I very personally, and we are going to grow with our generation and have to answer for a lot of the policies being made right now,” Chasten Buttigieg said.
Pete Buttigieg’s weekend visit included a stop at a local coffee shop in Ames, Iowa State University's campus to meet with college Democrats and an appearance at the public library in Grinnell. He ended the day closer to Des Moines, in Ankeny, and is scheduled for a house party in Johnston Saturday.
Buttigieg said Iowans can expect to see him outside of liberal-leaning bastions scattered around the purple state.
“As a red-state Democrat, you’re going to see us engaging a lot in more conservative areas, too: to rally Democrats there; to reinforce them in the courage of their convictions; and to speak to places, whole geographies, that feel neglected,” he said.
Ted Rasmusson, another Ames resident who serves as the Story County treasurer, watched Buttigieg on Friday. He liked Buttigieg's pitch, especially his experience as a mayor.
“It’s nice to know that candidates have experience administering large organizations," Rasmusson said. "Because ultimately the president is kind of the chief administrator for the country. I think that can make him stick out.”
Correction: This version has been corrected to reflect that Fred Karger, who is openly gay, ran as Republican for president in the 2012 cycle.