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Mayor Pete Buttigieg is the hottest thing in politics. Can it last?

Mark Z. Barabak, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

MANCHESTER, N.H. -- Pete Buttigieg was home recently, back in the Indiana city where he was born and serves as mayor. He was at the library on Main Street, at a book signing for his autobiography, and everything seemed familiar, the way it's always been.

Only not.

"People looked at me like I was some kind of celebrity," he said, "and it was in South Bend, and I was thinking, 'You guys know me. We've been in this very same room and you've been yelling at me about neighborhood stuff.' It was like I was a different person."

That's what it is like to be the breakout star of the 2020 presidential campaign and, for the moment, the hottest thing in American politics.

The Democratic upstart with the inscrutable surname (pronounced BUDDHA-judge) and platinum resume -- Rhodes scholar, business consulting background, Afghanistan War vet -- has raised an impressive $7 million, begun climbing in polls and become the unlikely pace-setter for engagement on social media.

If Democrats think the way to beat President Donald Trump is through contrast, Buttigieg offers a stark one.

 

There is, of course, his youth. He is 37. It will be 2054, he tells audiences, by the time he is as old as the president.

There's his husband, Chasten, who has become a top campaign surrogate, with nearly a quarter of a million followers of his lively Twitter account.

There's Buttigieg's distinctly unopulent upbringing as the son of Notre Dame professors, his Mr. Rogers haircut and Howdy Doody grin, and, perhaps more than anything, his brainy yet straightforward manner of speaking.

The obvious challenge for Buttigieg is thriving beyond what he himself calls this "flavor of the month" phase. He needs to rapidly grow his campaign, to compete against better-established candidates with larger and more sophisticated operations. He must brace for harsher scrutiny from voters taking second or third looks, and a more thorough going-over by a less fawning media.

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