SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Pete Buttigieg, the 37-year-old mayor of South Bend, Indiana, officially announced his presidential bid Sunday afternoon, hoping to make history as the youngest-ever, and the first-ever openly gay, commander in chief.
Speaking to a standing-room-only crowd inside a downtown tech hub that had once been the home of a long-ago-shuttered Studebaker car factory, Buttigieg promised to bring to the country the kind of change and innovation he'd helped to instill in his native South Bend.
"My name is Pete Buttigieg. They call me Mayor Pete. I am a proud son of South Bend, Indiana. And I am running for President of the United States," he said, prompting a wave of adoring screams from the crowd. "I recognize the audacity of doing this as a Midwestern millennial mayor. More than a little bold — at age 37— to seek the highest office in the land."
Touting the advances his native city made under his leadership — including a revitalized downtown and slashed unemployment — Buttigieg proclaimed that "South Bend is back."
And he got in more than a few digs at President Donald Trump, telling the crowd that he was going to "tell a different story than 'Make America Great Again.'"
"There is a myth being sold to industrial and rural communities: the myth that we can stop the clock and turn it back," he said. "It comes from people who think the only way to reach communities like ours is through resentment and nostalgia, selling an impossible promise of returning to a bygone era that was never as great as advertised to begin with."
The highly anticipated announcement marked the latest chapter in Buttigieg's meteoric rise from the mayor of the fourth-most-populous city in the nation's 17th-most-populated state to a legitimate presidential contender.
Buttigieg had previously launched a presidential exploratory committee in January, leading to a barrage of television interviews and newspaper articles highlighting his diverse resume. Buttigieg, the son of two Notre Dame University professors, attended Harvard; went on to become a Rhodes Scholar; did a stint at prestigious consulting firm McKinsey & Company; was elected as the mayor of South Bend at the age of 29; took a leave of absence during his first term to serve in Afghanistan as a naval intelligence officer; came out as gay in a column in his local newspaper a few months before his re-election; was re-elected with nearly 80 percent of the vote; married his partner Chasten in a church ceremony that was live-streamed on the Internet; and wrote a best-selling book.
He spent the months after his exploratory committee launch crisscrossing the country, introducing himself to crowds in the early-voting states of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada, delivering a highly personal speech about how he wrestled with his sexual orientation, and taking shots at Vice President Mike Pence over his stances on gay marriage and LGBTQ equality.
He joins an exceptionally crowded field of candidates vying for his party's nomination. There are at least 14 major candidates in the race — 17 if you count three other semi-well known contenders — and almost half a dozen others who could still announce.
Democratic voters and politics watchers, however, have quickly taken notice of the millennial mayor, expressing admiration over his ability to speak seven languages, praising his intellectual ideas like "intergenerational justice," and embracing a handful of ambitious policy proposals, like abolishing the electoral college.
The money has been coming in, too.
Earlier this month, Buttigieg announced that he'd raised more than $7 million since launching his exploratory committee — a whopping amount for an until-now-relative unknown figure and one that has put him ahead of everyone in the Democratic race in terms of total money raised, except Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, former Texas Rep Beto O'Rourke and California Sen. Kamala Harris.
Last week, a pair of polls put Buttigieg in third place in Iowa (a Monmouth University poll had him getting the support of 9 percent of likely caucus-goers, behind 16 percent for Sanders and 27 percent for former Vice President Joe Biden, who is expected to join the race later this month) and in New Hampshire (a Saint Anselm College pollshowed him 11 percent, trailing Sanders, who got 16 percent, and Biden, who got 23 percent).
The speed of Buttigieg's ascent isn't lost on the newly minted candidate.
"A month ago," he joked during an appearance last week on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show," "we were just trying to get people to say my name."