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In Pete Buttigieg, America gets a millennial candidate for president

Alex Roarty, McClatchy Washington Bureau on

Published in News & Features

MANCHESTER, N.H. -- Like many millennials, Pete Buttigieg created a Facebook account in college. He listened to the Dave Matthews Band in high school. And he met his future husband on the dating app Hinge.

So maybe it's no surprise that Buttigieg -- the first-ever serious millennial presidential candidate -- has staked his 2020 campaign on defending his oft-ridiculed generation, advocating for a starkly different view of their virtues and place in the world.

In interviews, in speeches, and on the campaign trail, the 37-year-old mayor of South Bend, Ind., describes millennials not as lazy or narcissistic, but as a generation beset by a series of challenges beyond their control -- who now face a decadeslong project of trying to right the mistakes of past generations.

"I understand what is in the eyes of young people who are calling an older generation to account for our failure to keep them safe," Buttigieg told a few hundred New Hampshire politicos last week over breakfast-time eggs and coffee.

The millennial focus is part of a broader strategy for Buttigieg, who is using his youth to present himself as a candidate of generational change, including by calling for systemic alterations to the political process itself. He remains a long shot to win the Democratic nomination -- indeed, he's trying now to just earn a place on stage for the first debate. But it's a message that distinguishes him in a crowded field where the two contenders at the top of the polls, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, are more than twice his age.

And it puts him squarely in the middle of a larger ongoing public argument about millennials and their values.

 

"Part of what I'm trying to do is just help people understand the experience of this generation," Buttigieg said during an interview.

On the trail, as he did in Manchester, Buttigieg likes to make a checklist of difficult issues confronting people his age or younger. He recalls being in high school when Columbine happened, calling himself part of the "school-shooting generation."

He also says climate change is a personal issue for young people, argues that many in his generation are poised to make less than their parents, and points out that most of the troops sent to fight in post-9/11 conflicts were millennials.

"Being born when I was born has some specific implications," he said.

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