“It is time for Democrats to stop treating the presidency like it’s the only office that matters,” said South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, in one of the most memorable lines from his speech at the Progress Iowa Corn Feed in Des Moines on September 10. He missed a Notre Dame home football game weekend to spend time here, because in his view, we are facing “the most important season for progressives in our lifetime. And so much of what has to happen—so much of what has to change—starts right here in the middle of the country.”
Last year’s rout in state legislative races allowed Iowa Republicans to enact a long list of destructive policies. Although today’s school board elections are non-partisan, as are the city council and mayoral races in November, the turnout level and outcomes should provide some clues about whether Democrats and progressives are able to translate their anger into effective political action.
Buttigieg recognizes the challenges facing a party at a low point nationally and in states like Indiana and Iowa. On the plus side, he is convinced Democrats already have a message that can resonate with voters, and “It’s not even complicated.”
Buttigieg has served as South Bend mayor since 2011, except during his second tour in Afghanistan as a Navy reservist. He was easily re-elected in 2015, a few months after coming out as gay in the wake of Indiana’s so-called “Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” designed to allow businesses to discriminate against LGBT people.
Outside his home state, Buttigieg first appeared on many people’s radar during his campaign for Democratic National Committee chair earlier this year. As the “wild card” in that race, he attracted support from four former DNC chairs and many others, promising a new focus on organizing and capacity-building at the state
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