POLITICS
07/02/2020 9:51 AM AEDT

Who Is Pete Buttigieg And How Do You Pronounce His Name?

The 38-year-old came into the US elections largely as a political unknown, but he’s been a surprising candidate in the 2020 race.

First things first – it’s (sort of) pronounced “Boot-edge-edge” – here’s a handy pictorial prompt to remind you.

PA Media/Getty

Right, now that’s out of the way, let’s learn a bit about the man himself, not least why we’re talking about him at all.

It wasn’t too long ago that the elder statesman and meme-generator of US politics, Joe Biden, was pretty much a shoo-in to be the Democratic nominee for the 2020 presidential election.

Unfortunately for Joe things haven’t quite been plain sailing and as the battle officially kicked off this week in Iowa, it looks like it’s Buttigieg that’s taken an early lead, just ahead of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

For a candidate who came into the race largely as a political unknown, the 38-year-old former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, has been the surprising package of the race.

A Midwestern moderate and Navy veteran, Buttigieg has billed himself as the flagbearer of a new political generation.

Despite his youth, he has aligned himself with less radical policies than Sanders and Warren. Should he win the Democratic race, he would be the first openly gay presidential nominee in US history.

Questions have been raised over how far he can appeal, with some convinced his lack of support from minority voters nationally dooms his candidacy. 

Let’s break it down a little...

Education

Brits can lay clam to a small piece of the Buttigieg movement. He studied as a Rhodes scholar in the UK at Pembroke College, Oxford.

After that he graduated from Harvard so he has quite the educational pedigree.

Work

Perhaps the most notable entry on his CV is a stint in Afghanistan in 2014 where he served as a naval intelligence officer in the US Navy Reserves, even earning himself a Joint Service Commendation Medal in the process.

Pete For America

Buttigieg cut his political teeth as mayor of South Bend, Indiana, from 2012 to January of this year.

In 2015 he publicly came out as gay and went on to win reelection in a landslide with over 80% of the vote.

The ex-serviceman is often introduced on stage by his husband Chasten whom he met on Hinge and is the first openly LGBT candidate to make a serious pitch for the presidency.

What does he believe in? 

As noted above, Buttigieg is far more centrist than the radical socialism of his rival, Bernie Sanders, and generally toes the liberal Democratic party line on issues such as abortion, healthcare and immigration.

He has called for the legalisation of marijuana and has said he used it “a handful of times a long time ago”.

He also said that he knows people whose lives have been “shaken” by its criminalisation and the so-called “war on drugs”.

Buttigieg is a Christian, but has been critical of evangelical Christians who support Donald Trump.

In an interview in 2018, he said: “There is just a way to bring it back to the values that are actually discussed the most in scripture. 

“I mean, think about foot-washing. Feet are gross, and one of the enduring images of Christianity is, when the divine comes to Earth, he occupies himself with service in the most humbling way, of those who are most humble.

“And right now, in our leadership, we have the opposite. We have this idea that those in political service need to make sure that their powerful allies succeed, and it’s just not – it’s not the Christianity that I get in church or in scripture.”

Any scandals we should be aware of?

Buttigieg has also been forced to call “bullshit” on claims he was involved in a bread price-fixing scandal in Canada during his time as a management consultant.

It was alleged he helped artificially inflate the price of bread in Canadian grocery stores while working for consulting firm McKinsey & Company.

“He had nothing to do with this bread pricing issue and had never heard of it until recently,” campaign spokesperson Sean Savett told CNN last year.

Is he going to win?

It’s too early to say for sure, although the Iowa result is encouraging, but there is an elephant in the room – his lack of popularity with Black voters.

Buttigieg is betting big on Iowa and New Hampshire, hoping success in the largely white states will help him overcome dismal support from Black voters by the time more diverse states weigh in on his bid for the presidency.

Buttigieg’s most recent swing through South Carolina, the first state with a large Black population to hold a primary, underscored the depth of his challenge with the critical Democratic voting bloc, Reuters reports.

Amid campaign stops designed to put Buttigieg before Black audiences, the white former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, faced continued questions about his record on race and his ability to earn Black voters’ trust.

Buttigieg lacks the national profile and long-standing relationships with the Black community that have boosted Biden. His recently-ended tenure as mayor has come under scrutiny, particularly over a lack of diversity on the local police force and a fatal shooting of a Black resident by a police officer.

A national Washington Post/Ipsos poll this month showed Buttigieg with just 2% support from Democratic Black voters nationally, far behind former vice president Joe Biden’s 48% and Bernie Sanders’ 20%. In South Carolina, where roughly 30% of the population is Black, Buttigieg has remained in the single digits.

He has taken steps to try and address this. Buttigieg hired a diverse campaign team and has released a detailed policy proposal – dubbed the Frederick Douglass Plan after the 19th-century abolitionist leader who was born into slavery – that he would send more federal money to Black colleges and Black-owned businesses, said Hasoni Pratts, the campaign’s national engagement director.

The fact he is an openly gay man, however, is seen as an obstacle for the state’s deeply religious population.

“It’s South Carolina. We are gas, sweet tea and religion,” said Mattie Thomas, who co-chairs the state’s Democratic Black Women Caucus.

“For many people, they believe their God won’t let them support him.”

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