Indiana, a state not known to produce many American presidents, might have a new presidential nominee contender for the 2020 election.
Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Indiana, since 2012, has launched an exploratory committee to look into a potential 2020 run to become the Democratic Party's presidential nominee.
“It’s possible. It’s improbable,” said Chad Kinsella, assistant professor of political science, about Buttigieg’s chances of winning the nomination. “It’s going to be a wide-open field in the Democratic primary and you never know.”
William Henry Harrison, who served for 32 days in 1841, and his grandson Benjamin Harrison, who served from 1889 to 1893, are the only two U.S. presidents to have had political association with Indiana, according to the White House’s website.
Kinsella said President Donald Trump’s 2016 primary run, former presidents Bill Clinton’s 1992 primary run and Barack Obama’s 2008 run were examples of primary elections that delivered unexpected results.
“The key thing about primaries is it’s all about who runs and if you can get hot,” Kinsella said.
He said Indiana is a state that matters later in the primary process. So, being the mayor of a relatively unknown city and not having held a statewide or national office are going to make it hard for Buttigieg to win the nomination.
“It’s going to be an uphill battle for that guy just because he’s not a national figure,” he said. “A lot of other people in the race are.”
Despite all the factors working against him, Kinsella said, the many Democratic candidates running in the election “divides up the vote.”
Being the first openly-gay married person to run for Democratic presidential nomination as well as having prior military experience also bode well for Buttigieg, Kinsella said.
He said what really matters is who can perform in the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary.
“Momentum matters,” he said. “Front-runner status and all the polling that’s done right now — it isn’t really worth squat. It’s more for entertainment.”
A candidate’s ability to fundraise from “big money donors” who “are making some bets right now” also matters, Kinsella said.
“I don’t think he’s going to have access to those big money people,” Kinsella said. “His fundraising is probably going to be anemic, which is probably going to make that leap much harder.”
Michael Keen, communications director of Ball State Democrats and sophomore computer science major, thinks Buttigieg is “a strong candidate” and that “there’s always a chance” for him to win.
“From what I have heard about what he’s done to South Bend — like reviving it in the wake of the deindustrialization age — I feel like he’s done some pretty good work revitalizing it,” Keen said.
Buttigieg's age of 37 helps him have "some appeal to younger voters" and be "more in touch" with issues like climate change, student debt and Medicare for all, Keen said.
“[Buttigieg]’s an exciting candidate,” Keen said. “While he may not get very far, he definitely will attract some attention.”
Gavin Schulz, vice president of Ball State Republicans and freshman social studies education major, thinks people not having heard of Buttigieg will probably be “his biggest hurdle running for president.”
Schulz said members of the organization from South Bend don’t really think he’s being as effective a mayor right now because he’s been more focused on possibly running for president in 2020.
“They think he’s been more focused on trying to get media attention to himself than actually running their city,” Schulz said.
However, Schulz said Buttigieg’s moderate stance as a Democrat and military experience could be a unifying factor for the South Bend mayor.
“To get going in the Iowa caucus, [Buttigieg] needs only 5-10 percent of the vote to get some traction,” Schulz said.
Buttigieg, who was re-elected for his second mayoral term in 2015 with 80 percent of the vote, holds a favorable view from some Ball State students from South Bend, Indiana.
Erin Pinter, sophomore elementary education major, joined the mayor’s youth task force when she was in high school to help stop violence in the community, in schools and among young people which she said was “successful” because it brought attention to the problems in her community and because a lot of students wished to join the task force.
Pinter, whose parents help resettle refugees in her community, said Buttigieg “played a huge role” in their efforts. She also said community events like South Bend’s Best Week Ever, which celebrates the city’s anniversary, makes everyone feel welcome in the city.
“Our community has really developed and changed with him as mayor,” Pinter said. “You can tell he cares and he puts in the effort to do everything he can and I believe that’s very important and a very good quality to have.”
Mara Medors, freshman political science major, said the mayor is “a big advocate for turning things around” and used his 1,000 Houses in 1,000 Days program which addressed vacant and abandoned homes in areas in South Bend as an example of this.
Medors said Buttigieg is “personable,” “open to ideas” and will be successful in “reaching both sides of the political spectrum.”
“I definitely think that’ll be tough for him but I do think he’ll gain recognition for what he has done in South Bend,” Medors said.
Contact Rohith Rao with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @RaoReports.