Jim Shella: Why I’m pulling for Democrat Pete Buttigieg

Keywords Forefront / Opinion

ShellaI’m pulling for South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg. No, I’m not planning to volunteer, or contribute or even promise to vote for him. Those just aren’t things I do for any candidate. I just hope this Democrat is not a flash in the pan. If his exploratory bid for president turns into a serious candidacy, I believe that will be good for Indiana.

I can tell you that, in similar fashion, I had high hopes for Dick Lugar when he ran for president in 1996. The Indiana Republican got only 4 percent in Iowa and 4 percent in New Hampshire before giving up his White House aspirations, and I don’t think it’s crazy to believe Buttigieg can do better.

A strong showing would energize Democrats in this state and possibly give them the kind of leader they sorely need. See, I believe a strong two-party system is good for all of us. I also believe Buttigieg brings important elements to the political debate that previous candidates have not. Start with being the first openly gay candidate for president and then go to the fact that he is just 37 years old.

Those could be negatives, and likely would be in a statewide race in Indiana, which might be one reason Buttigieg is aiming higher. Those factors play far differently in Democratic primaries than in a November election here.

So, does he have a chance?

His opening act, the media reaction to it, and the fact that his book is on The New York Times best-seller list all suggest that he might. He has talking points that are geared toward younger voters. They are logical and meaningful. He has a sense of humor. He demonstrates intelligence. He has experience in the military and government. He’s a nice guy. (Yes, that could hurt him, too.)

I’m a bit of a nerd about these things, but I am amused at how reporters are now being told to pronounce Mayor Pete’s last name. It’s Boot-edge-edge. If you think of an army boot and a knife or two, that’s OK. Back when the same guy was running for Indiana treasurer against Republican Richard Mourdock, reporters were told it was Buddha-judge. That conjures images of two folks who sit around. He’s since thought this through.

Of course, he has never been on the national stage before and Lugar can tell you things are different in the big leagues. So can Dan Quayle. There is a show business element to presidential politics that causes serious proposals and serious candidates to get lost. (For reference, see Donald Trump.) Also, Buttigieg ran for chairman of the Democratic National Committee a couple of years ago and failed.

Yet, that may tell you this guy does not fear failure. And getting your name tossed around in a losing effort just might put you in a better position down the road. It also would not be crazy to consider that Buttigieg might be aiming for the number two spot on a Democratic ticket. (Standard pundit speculation, that one.)

But, as long as I’m dreaming, what about the possibility for an all-Hoosier race for the White House in 2020? There may be a good chance that Mike Pence replaces Donald Trump on the ticket. Pence vs. Buttigieg. The gay candidate versus the LGBTQ nemesis.

Now that would be show biz.•


Shella hosted WFYI’s “Indiana Week in Review” for 25 years and covered Indiana politics for WISH-TV for more than three decades. Send comments to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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