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Buttigieg says he can provide Democrats a new path forward

South Bend, Ind., mayor and 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg speaks during the fourth annual Dave Loebsack Brews & BBQ at Celebration Farm in Iowa City, Iowa on Sunday, Sept. 23, 2018. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
South Bend, Ind., mayor and 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg speaks during the fourth annual Dave Loebsack Brews & BBQ at Celebration Farm in Iowa City, Iowa on Sunday, Sept. 23, 2018. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
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Pete Buttigieg thinks there is a hunger in the Democratic Party for a fresh face, and the 37-year-old mayor of South Bend, Ind., says his face may be the freshest.

In an ever-growing field of Democrats seeking the party’s nomination for president — 11 and counting — Buttigieg is making the case that he can satisfy Democrats looking for a new direction for the party.

“It’s safe to say I’m not like the others,” Buttigieg said during his campaign swing through Iowa earlier this month.

In addition to being one of the youngest candidates in the field of official or potential candidates, Buttigieg is a military veteran and openly gay.

Because of his political background, Buttigieg can emphasize his experience in executive leadership while being able to distance himself from congressional politics.

“I think there’s an appetite for something new and something different ... (that) people do want something different just because we’re at this moment of turning the page,” Buttigieg told reporters after a campaign event in Ankeny. “So I think the newer you are on the scene, maybe the freer you are of some of the habits and the strings that have made it hard to be original in our politics today.”

Multiple Iowa Democrats who attended the event in Ankeny — among the dozens who packed into a conference room in a senior living complex on a snowy Friday evening — said they liked Buttigieg in part for that very reason: He is a fresh face and someone who could lead the Democratic Party into the future.

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He said there are weaknesses in the country’s political and economic systems, feeding Americans’ hunger for something other than politics as usual.

Buttigieg added the caveat that he thinks it’s not enough to just be a fresh face, that a successful candidate must also be able to show the substance behind their candidacy. He said he looks forward to the stage of the campaign where policy debates become more significant.

And Buttigieg welcomes that debate no matter how large the field of Democrats grows, he said.

“I think the bigger (the field of Democratic candidates) the better, actually,” Buttigieg said. “I think it’s a moment in the party where we’re deciding what the future is going to look like. So the wider range of ideas and styles and tones and messengers we can have, the better.”

Special election

There is plenty of political intrigue in the pending special election to replace former Iowa Sen. Jeff Danielson, D-Waterloo.

Danielson, who had served in the Senate since 2005, resigned Thursday. He has won four elections despite the Cedar Valley district’s political balance: the current makeup of active registered voters is 32 percent Democrats, 30 percent Republicans and 38 percent no-party voters.

Republicans will feel good about their chances to flip this seat and further expand their 32-18 advantage in the Senate.

But Democrats will be optimistic, too. In addition to the slight voter registration edge, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton won the district by 3.5 percentage points in 2016. And Black Hawk County, which contains the district, was one of just 11 counties won by Democratic gubernatorial candidate Fred Hubbell in 2018.

Even more important than the data, however, are the candidates the parties nominate to run in the special election.

Walt Rogers has to be near if not at the top of Republicans’ list. Rogers represented a portion of the district in the Iowa House for four two-year terms before losing a close re-election race in 2018.

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The Democrats who represent portions of the district in the House are Reps. Bob Kressig and Dave Williams. Williams defeated Rogers in 2018.

Erin Murphy covers Iowa politics and government. Contact him at erin.murphy@lee.net or follow him on Twitter at @ErinDMurphy.

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