Pete Buttigieg announced Monday that he will not seek a third term as mayor of South Bend, Ind., a move that is expected to presage his attempt to vault from local to presidential politics.
Buttigieg would not be the first mayor to attempt such a jump — nor, likely, even the sole mayor in the 2020 Democratic presidential field. But he would put forth a distinct profile, as a 36-year-old former Rhodes scholar and Afghanistan veteran who is gay and married.
“I know now that the time has come for me to prepare the city for new leadership again,” Buttigieg said during a news conference at his office.
Asked about his political future, Buttigieg said he doesn’t plan to make an announcement until the new year.
“I don’t think it’s a secret that we’re looking at things,” he said, adding that he plans to serve out the remaining year and two weeks of his term.
Buttigieg already has a trip on the books to Iowa. He plans to travel to Des Moines and speak at the Progress Iowa annual holiday party Thursday, along with two other Democrats eyeing the 2020 race, Sen. Jeff Merkley (Ore.) and Rep. Eric Swalwell (Calif.).
For Buttigieg, who unsuccessfully ran last year for chairman of the Democratic National Committee, a White House campaign would provide a chance to shape the debate over the party’s direction and potentially expand his future options beyond his Republican-dominated state.
His campaign would probably cast him as a can-do executive who solved problems close to voters’ hearts, including razing vacant homes, attracting new residents and revitalizing downtown South Bend, a city of just over 100,000 people.
He’s been recognized by GovFresh, an organization that highlights “public servant innovators” and voted him as mayor of the year in 2013 along with then-New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Bloomberg is also considering a bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, as is Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.
Julián Castro, who announced last week that he’s forming a presidential exploratory committee, is the former mayor of San Antonio. Castro also served as secretary of Housing and Urban Development in the Obama administration.
Buttigieg would come to a presidential race familiar with a part of the country that Democrats lost badly in 2016 but regained somewhat in the midterm elections. States in the area, including Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin, will be key targets for both parties in 2020.
“What I’ve tried to do is craft a story about the industrial Midwest that’s not about nostalgia and not about resentment,” said Buttigieg (pronounced Boot-edge-edge) said in an interview with The Washington Post last week. “South Bend is a powerful answer for how you could do it differently and have a focus on the future.”
Buttigieg joined the U.S. Naval Reserve in 2009. In 2014, he turned over his municipal responsibilities to South Bend’s deputy mayor while he served seven months in Afghanistan.
Making a jump from leading Indiana’s fourth-biggest city to running for president is an audacious move by usual standards, albeit one that would benefit from connections he made during his lengthy DNC campaign.
Buttigieg’s presidential path also would probably rely on building grass-roots and fundraising support among the LBGT community — he would be competing to be the first openly gay nominee of a major party — and leaning on his relatively young age to generate enthusiasm among millennial voters.
He’s making another move familiar to likely candidates: There’s an autobiography due out in mid-February, which will be followed by a book tour.
Buttigieg was coy when asked last week whether he’s met with former president Barack Obama, which has become another required stop on the pre-presidential tour.
“He’s really good about making time for emerging candidates,” Buttigieg said. “I don’t want to talk out of school.”
John Wagner contributed to this report.