The presidential field became a lot more diverse Wednesday — and that was with the entrance of just one man.
Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, is just 37 years old, openly gay, and a military veteran who served in Afghanistan, checking off a lot of boxes for a Democratic presidential hopeful.
He announced the formation of an exploratory committee, giving him a chance to test the waters and see if there’s a path to victory for someone who’s short on national political experience but has the sort of story Democratic voters are likely to swoon over.
“Longest of longshots, but this 37-year-old gay, Afghanistan War vet has a remarkable story,” tweeted former Obama strategist David Axelrod.
Mr. Buttigieg told reporters in Washington on Wednesday that he knows he is an underdog and that he plans to deliver a bold message encapsulated in the slogan “Freedom, Democracy and Security” that more established figures may shy away from.
“I think it is pretty clear that I’m not like the others,” Mr. Buttigieg said, adding that his approach to politics derives from his time as mayor of a middle-class city in middle America, and personal experiences, such as deployment to a war zone on the orders of a president, or his partnership with his husband.
“My marriage to Chasten is something that exists by the grace of a single vote on the U.S. Supreme Court,” Mr. Buttigieg said.
He’s the youngest candidate in the field of presidential wannabes right now, with Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, who has announced her candidacy, nine months older.
The field is already breaking records for the number of women who’ve taken steps to run, and the number of minorities could grow as more names announce their intentions.
They include senators, former Cabinet officials and billionaires. Yet Mr. Buttigieg, who’s spent eight years as mayor of South Bend, said the wide-open nature of the 2020 field creates openings for “newcomers.”
Political observers, though, said Mr. Buttigieg had to make a splash early.
“With the number of folks running and the number of people who have stronger name ID, I don’t think someone in his position could afford to wait because the title wave starts to roll you over,” said Kathleen Sullivan, a member of the Democratic National Committee from New Hampshire. “So I think for him he had to get in now. It will be too late sooner for him than it would be for other people.”
Mr. Buttigieg’s announcement comes a couple days after Sen. Kamala D. Harris of California announced her bid, and as the political world waits to see whether some of the party’s big guns enter the race — namely Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont and former Vice President Joseph R. Biden, who will address the national conference of mayors Thursday in Washington.
Those three are generally at the top of the potential candidate list in surveys of Democratic voters and liberal activists.
“If Biden and Sanders decide not to go, this thing is completely up in the air,” said Jeff Link, an Iowa-based Democratic strategist.
Bryce Smith, chair of Dallas County Iowa Democrats, said part of Mr. Buttigieg’s appeal is that he doesn’t have the political baggage that will drag on those who served in Washington.
“We are in the era of Trump and what that means is every speck of anything in your past is and will be spun and used against you,” Mr. Smith said. “I kind of equate it to the Barack Obama theory — run quick, run fast and win.”
Mr. Smith also said that Mr. Buttigieg, who lives about a six-hour drive from Des Moines, exudes a Midwest vibe that should put voters at ease.
“A U.S. senator kind of gets a different vision of politics once they get into D.C.,” he said. “You look at the Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, or the Joe Biden type of experience — that is great experience in national politics, but that doesn’t always resonate with people in their day-to-day lives.”