Pete Buttigieg, the 34-year-old mayor of South Bend, Indiana, is making a late play to run the Democratic Party, injecting some rising star power into a contest that was shaping up as a Bernie Sanders–Hillary Clinton proxy battle between the two leading contenders thus far—Minnesota Representative Keith Ellison and Labor Secretary Thomas Perez.
Buttigieg is unknown nationally, but in this moment of Democratic desperation some influential party voices see him as a new, young hope from the heartland—the kind of leader who could help them win back ground they lost to President-elect Donald Trump. He’s a Harvard graduate, Rhodes Scholar, and Afghanistan veteran from the Rust Belt. The Washington Post called him the “most interesting mayor you’ve never heard of,” and New York Times columnist Frank Bruni thinks he might even be the first gay president.
Buttigieg clearly wants to frame the DNC race as the past versus the future, and cast himself as untainted by the divisions of last year’s presidential primary campaigns. There’s some merit in that. But Buttigieg also runs the risk of further splintering the party just six weeks before the vote.