Hi. Welcome to On Politics, your guide to the day in national politics. I’m Lisa Lerer, your host.
He’s the “hottest candidate in the 2020 race,” according to CNN. New Yorkers love him more than their own mayor. And then, last night, he achieved pure Democratic nirvana: a fawning, six-minute monologue on “The Daily Show.”
“There’s no dirt on this guy! Like, nothing,” Trevor Noah said in a segment that might as well have been a campaign ad. “Mayor Pete should do something bad to prove that he’s normal.”
It’s official: We’re having a Buttigieg Boomlet.
Pete Buttigieg, the 37-year-old mayor of South Bend, Ind., and candidate for president, has suddenly emerged as a star of the Democratic primary. He’s a vet! A Rhodes Scholar! He speaks seven languages! He’s from the Rust Belt! And everyone’s favorite fact: He taught himself Norwegian to read more books!
Now, it’s clear many in the media have gone bananas for Mr. Buttigieg. That’s not surprising: We love a fresh new face, particularly if it’s historic (first openly gay president?) and kind of quirky (ask him about “Finnegans Wake”; or, on second thought, maybe don’t.)
But are real humans — you know, the kind that actually vote — feeling that same tingle? There’s some evidence that they are: Google searches are up. He brought in more than $600,000 in donations after a televised town hall event on CNN earlier this month, enough to qualify for the debate stage. And a new poll out today from Quinnipiac University has him at a whopping 4 percent, even with Senator Elizabeth Warren and far above his previous national standing of 1 percent.
Of course, polyglot or not, Mr. Buttigieg remains a very untested quantity on the national stage. His most significant national political experience was a failed bid for the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee. He has tackled crime, economic blight and congestion as mayor of South Bend, but the city has a population of just over 100,000 — hardly like leading New York or Los Angeles.
Mr. Buttigieg’s lack of a political past may be an asset, though, since he has no record of roll call votes, no history of stances on controversial issues. Just ask Joe Biden, who found himself facing backlash this week after musing that he wished he could have “done something” about the way the Senate Judiciary Committee treated Anita Hill in 1991. (Mr. Biden was the chairman of that committee at the time.)
What this whole Buttigieg moment tells me is that we may be into a campaign much like the Republican race in 2012: Remember Herman Cain? Or Tim Pawlenty? Both those men caught a spark, if not quite fire, during that long primary slog.
Where are they now? Well, Mr. Cain hosts an online conservative radio show. Mr. Pawlenty became a banking lobbyist before losing a primary for Minnesota governor last year.
The key, as both those men would likely say, is not just having a moment. It’s whether that moment comes at the right time.
Our colleague Trip Gabriel traveled to South Carolina to get a firsthand look at Mr. Buttigieg’s campaign. Read his story here.
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Meet Wayne Messam
Maybe Pete Buttigieg’s success is starting to catch on: This morning, Wayne Messam, the 44-year-old Democratic mayor of Miramar, Fla., announced that he, too, was joining the presidential race.
While Miramar, with a population around 140,000, is a bit larger than Mr. Buttigieg’s home of South Bend, Ind., Mr. Messam is far less known in national political circles. Here’s a quick rundown:
• After running a construction company in South Florida with his wife, Mr. Messam defeated a 16-year incumbent to become the first African-American mayor of Miramar and is currently in his second term.
• His signature issue is a proposal to cancel the more than $1.5 trillion in student debt owed by 44 million Americans. He has also taken liberal stances on gun control, health care and the environment.
• He is the son of Jamaican immigrants, and he played wide receiver for Florida State University, winning a national championship there in 1993. He has said he hopes to tap into the Caribbean-American community and friends who are high-profile athletes to support his bid.
The Democrats have set a date and location for the first debate of the 2020 primary: It will be split across two nights, June 26 and 27, and held in Miami, according to the debate’s host network, NBC News.
The candidates will be divided between the two nights randomly. According to FiveThirtyEight, 12 Democrats have qualified so far:
Cory Booker, Pete Buttigieg, Julián Castro, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, Jay Inslee, Amy Klobuchar, Beto O’Rourke, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Andrew Yang, and — despite not having entered the race yet — Joe Biden.