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Pete Buttigieg, citing need for generational change, joins 2020 Democratic presidential race

South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D) spoke about looking ahead to the future and "picking up the pieces of reckless policies that are being made right now." (Video: Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post)

South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who has signaled for months that he would try to leap from local to presidential politics, announced Wednesday that he will join the burgeoning cast of Democratic candidates in the 2020 race.

Buttigieg made his plans official in a video and email sent to supporters early Wednesday before taking part in the U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting in Washington.

He announced in December that he would not seek a third term as mayor of the Indiana city, a move widely seen as a precursor to a presidential run. He said Wednesday he was setting up an exploratory committee for president, the legal mechanism allowing him to raise and spend money on behalf of his campaign.

Buttigieg suffused his announcement with references to his youth and the generational exception he represents compared with most of the Democratic field. He turned 37 on Saturday, making him the youngest entrant in the presidential race.

“The case here is simple: That it’s time for a new generation of leadership in our country. That we can’t nibble around the edges of a broken system. That there’s no going back,” Buttigieg told reporters Wednesday morning. “That there’s no ‘again’ in the real world. And that we can’t rewind to 1950, or for that matter to 2010.”

Post Magazine: Could Pete Buttigieg become the first millennial president?

The millennial profile is only one of the attributes Buttigieg brings to the race: He is a former Rhodes scholar and Afghanistan veteran, a native Midwesterner who is gay. (He and his husband, Chasten Glezman, were married last summer.)

“The most important thing in my life — my marriage to Chasten — is something that exists by the grace of a single vote on the U.S. Supreme Court,” Buttigieg said. “So I’m someone who understands — whether it’s through that or whether it’s through the fact that I was sent to war on the orders of the president — I understand politics not in terms of who’s up and who’s down or some of the other things that command the most attention on the news but in terms of the everyday impacts on our lives.”

“I’m also mindful of the fact that this just might make this a little easier for the next person that comes along,” he said.

Buttigieg ran unsuccessfully in 2017 for chairman of the Democratic National Committee. He acknowledged Wednesday that he is “aware of the odds” he faces in leaping from a local office — particularly one representing a city of just over 100,000 people — to a presidential campaign.

But he also faced a dismal potential for rising to statewide office in his Republican-dominated state. The presidential race, like his earlier DNC run, at minimum builds his national profile and could illuminate his views on how Democrats can appeal to the Midwestern voters who spurned them in 2016.

Like others considering a presidential campaign — among them Michael R. Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York, and Eric Garcetti, mayor of Los Angeles — Buttigieg is also emphasizing his role in his city’s transformation.

After taking office at the age of 29, he confronted an industrial Midwestern town that, like many others, had been left foundering by economic changes in recent decades that ruined much of the city’s financial base. He pushed to revitalize South Bend, draw in new residents and businesses — some of them global — diversify the economy and clean up blighted, abandoned homes.

“The important thing I think people need to know about South Bend’s story is we didn’t change our trajectory because I went around saying things like ‘I alone can fix it’ or ‘We’re going to make our city great again,’ ” Buttigieg said, playing off two of President Trump’s famous statements. “What we did was we faced reality.”

Buttigieg’s brief entry announcement was light on specifics. He cited consumer protections, racial and social justice, cyber- and other security threats, climate change and freedom from interference by hostile foreign powers as some of the problems for which he would seek solutions.

“Day one of the exploratory phase is not when we unfold a fully articulated policy course,” Buttigieg said. “What I will say is it’s going to be anchored in these three principles — freedom, democracy and security.”

Buttigieg did, however, suggest that because he does not have the profile of some of his fellow candidates, he does not have the same obligations to the establishment. For example, he floated the idea of abolishing the electoral college as a lofty goal he hopes can enter the Democratic discussion.

“If nothing else, beginning that conversation hopefully will remind our party of the intellectual ambition we should have,” Buttigieg said. “We shouldn’t rule out structural reforms at a moment when it’s clear some things are just not working.”

Given his age and lack of a national profile, some have wondered whether Buttigieg is running more to boost a pursuit of other national positions — such as vice president or a Cabinet post — instead of being driven by a legitimate belief that he can become the first gay man elected to the White House. He addressed that question Wednesday.

“You don’t run for, I hope, any office, but certainly this office, unless you have a plan for that office and unless you see a path to get there,” Buttigieg said. “Again, I get the odds. But I also believe that we can do something no one else can do.”