Peter Buttigieg. Only weeks ago, that name likely meant nothing to you. When he announced that he was exploring a potential run for president on January 23, South Bend, Indiana’s “Mayor Pete” made a tiny splash in an already frothing sea of candidates. It was a novelty, really — a 37-year-old mayor of a Midwestern city with a population just above 100,000 residents, announcing that he wanted to govern the entire country. The narrative, whenever he did get any national attention, was along the lines of, how quaint!
Suddenly, the tides are starting to shift. After an impressive showing at CNN’s SXSW town hall, Buttigieg is being taken seriously. His watershed moment occurred at that very event — when he was asked about Vice President Mike Pence, with whom he worked closely when Pence was still Governor of Indiana.
“How could he allow himself to become the cheerleader of the porn star presidency?” he asked of the famously conservative Christian politician. “Is it that he stopped believing in scripture when he started believing in Donald Trump? I don’t know. I don’t know.”
That was such a huge moment that, per an Emerson poll, he went from next to zero name recognition to polling third place, just behind Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, in Iowa. He even hit 65,000 donors as of Saturday, March 16, which means he officially qualifies for the threshold to be invited to participate in the first Democratic primary debate.
Anecdotes about Mayor Pete are proliferating on Twitter, and journalists and pundits alike are suddenly excited about the 37-year-old dark horse from Indiana. But that doesn’t change the fact that he came from seemingly nowhere. So: who is Peter Buttigieg, and does he actually have a shot at the presidency?
Who is Mayor Pete?
First things first. The name. Buttigieg. It’s Maltese, and it’s pronounced. “boo-tij-edge.” Here are some alternative phonetics, courtesy of Buttigieg’s husband Chasten, in case our spelling doesn’t help.
But residents of South Bend, Indiana, where he was first elected Mayor in 2011, at the age of 29, just call him Mayor Pete. He’s a Harvard graduate, a Rhodes scholar, and proficient or fluent in at least seven languages: English, Maltese, Norwegian, Arabic, French, Spanish, Italian, and Dari. He is also, according to husband Chasten and Pottermore, a Hufflepuff. Further, he is deeply religious. When discussing Pence at that same CNN town hall that rocketed him into the spotlight, he said, “[Pence’s] interpretation of scripture is pretty different than mine to begin with,” he said. “My understanding of scripture is that it’s about protecting the stranger and the prisoner and the poor person and that idea. That’s what I get in the gospel when I’m at church and his has a lot more to do with sexuality…and a certain view of rectitude.”
Of the fact that he can speak Norwegian, Buttigieg reportedly taught himself the Nordic language so he could read the works of Erlend Loe, who only had one book — Naïve. Super — available in English.
And as for the fact that he speaks Arabic? Yet another Twitter anecdote has surfaced. This one is particularly heart-warming:
Aside from being the youngest mayor of a town of over 100,000 residents in American history, Buttigieg is also a war vet. In 2014, he served in Afghanistan—while still performing his duties as Mayor. In fact, of his unique experience—the youngest candidate, a Mayor in a sea of Senators, a polyglot—he told Cleveland.com, “I know that I have the Maltese-American gay millennial war veteran mayor lane all to myself. But even there – right? – the senator lane is crowded. I may not be the only mayor, if I get in, to be in the picture. There’s different generational candidates. There’s a left lane that’s got a lot of folks in it.”