Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Afghanistan veteran and a former 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, differentiated himself from the expansive presidential field using his millennial relatability and closeness to issues. Though Joe Biden, the candidate Buttigieg eventually endorsed, is now the incumbent nominee, the causes of the young mayor’s success are worth exploring.
Buttigieg entered the field as a relative newcomer to the political scene. He was mayor of a city with 100,000 residents. If elected, he would have been the youngest president ever. Despite his youth and lack of experience, Buttigieg stayed in the race longer than senators, congressmen and governors.
“No other Democrat will be able to claim a more surprising, disarming showing in 2020 than Buttigieg can,” New York Times columnist Frank Bruni wrote the night Buttigieg dropped out.
Pete Buttigieg’s Rules of the Road, the 10 core values for his staff and supporters to embody, helped Buttigieg outline his campaign. They aimed to summarize how Buttigieg’s campaign would conduct itself, in addition to emphasizing Buttigieg’s core values.
The Rules of the Road included respect, belonging, truth, teamwork, boldness, responsibility, substance, discipline, excellence and joy. They were indicators of what to expect from the campaign and served as a quick preview of how the campaign planned to carry themselves.
“How you run your campaign is also how you demonstrate what your values are as a candidate,” Douglas Heye, a CNN Political Commentator and Wall Street Journal contributor said in a phone interview about the workings of the Buttigieg campaign. “And so you want them to be in a completely symbiotic fashion…and you see this on other campaigns where they are struggling with this.”
The Rules of the Road were a draw for some voters who were looking for clearly outlined core issues and conduct of a campaign. This was true for Lawton Boardman, a Buttigieg supporter who canvassed for him in Los Angeles.
“Really what sealed the deal for me was his Rules of the Road,” Boardman said. “It starts with respect and ends with joy, and after living with so many of these years full of Trump’s horrible rhetoric and all the terrible stuff online, I thought if [Buttigieg] can abide by this, I was all in.”
To hear more about Boardman’s perspective on Buttigieg, listen to the audio clip below.
Boardman attended a Super Tuesday watch party hosted by the Buttigieg campaign in order to watch the outcome of his endorsement, Joe Biden, on Super Tuesday. While Buttigieg had pulled out, Joe Biden had a successful night, gaining the lead in delegates.
“I would have loved to have Pete, but I feel like Joe will be good at bringing everybody back into the dignity of the office,” Boardman said. “I hope he will bring Pete and all the other young people and all the people who were running for the Democratic nomination along with him.”
Buttigieg’s supporters comprised a wide range of voters. He rallied his supporters together utilizing his social media in order to maximize his reach to many different voters in a personal way. He used his foreign language skills, tweeting in Spanish and sharing videos of a variety of his different supporters.
Biden isn’t as strong in “talking about things in a personal way” according to Heye. For example, Buttigieg’s youth relative to Biden, Sanders and Warren enabled him to speak about how climate change would impact his future, an angle that the front-runners, all in their seventies, could not take.
“How Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren talk on an issue is all theoretical on the impact,” Heye said.
Despite his ability to speak about issues from the perspective of a young person, Senator Bernie Sanders polled highest among younger voters, while Buttigieg tended to attract older voters.
However, Biden also picks up where Buttigieg statistically struggled with the black vote. African American voters comprise 25% of Democrat primary voters. In a Quinnipiac Univerity poll, Buttigieg polled at four percent among black Democrats, and in The Economist/YouGov survey he was at two percent.
In contrast, Joe Biden has maintained a relative majority among the Democratic candidates with black voters throughout the primary season. In a University of Massachusetts Amherst/WCVB poll, Biden had a plurality of black voters with 33% saying they would support him in the Democratic Presidential Primary.
While Biden is a more moderate candidate, Bernie Sanders ran as a Democratic socialist. He dropped out of the race and endorsed Vice President Biden on April 13.
“The only way we beat Trump is through a politics that reflects the decency of the American people,” Buttigieg wrote in his tweet endorsing Biden. “It’s what we sought to practice in my campaign—and it’s what @JoeBiden has practiced his whole life.”
This story was originally published on The Oracle on April 26, 2020.