DES MOINES, Iowa (CN) – With a 73-year-old in the White House and several of his fellow Democratic presidential candidates eligible for Social Security, Pete Buttigieg told Iowa State Fair attendees Tuesday that the country needs a leader for the 21st century.
“That’s where I come in,” the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, said to cheers from supporters who crowded around the Des Moines Register’s Political Soapbox.
“Our country’s running out of time,” he said. “We can’t keep doing the same things over and over and expect something different.”
Buttigieg, now 37, was first elected mayor of South Bend in 2011 at the age of 29, becoming one of the youngest mayors in the nation. His campaign slogan — “It’s time for a new generation of American leadership” – reflects his pitch to millennial voters like himself.
Tuesday’s Iowa State Fair visit was an opportunity to introduce himself to Iowans who haven’t seen him in action before.
Buttigieg – pronounced “boot-edge-edge,” as his campaign signs helpfully suggest – said he’s called “Mayor Pete” because his last name is difficult to pronounce.
“President Pete’s got a nice ring to it, too,” he said Tuesday.
He is one of three Democrats, along with Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, who were bunched in the low double-digits behind former Vice President Joe Biden in the Des Moines Register’s June Iowa Poll.
The mayor holds a bachelor’s degree in history and literature from Harvard, and he studied philosophy, politics and economics at Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar. He came out as gay in a newspaper column published in 2015 and married his husband, Chasten, last year.
A lieutenant in the U.S. Naval Reserve, he took a leave of absence in 2014 to complete a seven-month tour of duty in Afghanistan, where he earned the Joint Service Commendation Medal for his contributions to counterterrorism. He was re-elected mayor in 2015 with 80% of the vote.
On Tuesday, Buttigieg said Democrats would vote for anybody who could defeat President Donald Trump.
“I’m here to argue this president wouldn’t be there if we didn’t have big problems” in this country, he said.
Among those problems are affordable health care – Buttigieg’s “Medicare for all who want it” proposal would give people the option to buy into a government plan – as well as infrastructure, an area in which the mayor said “the rest of the world is running circles around us.”
He also touched on immigration reform, blasting Trump’s promised border wall as a 17th century solution, and creating an economy and society where success does not depend on a person’s race.
On the issue of restoring America’s global relations, Buttigieg said, “You can resent the rest of the world or lead the rest of the world, but you can’t do both.”
He also called for protecting women’s reproductive rights and reforming the criminal justice system.
In a question-and-answer session after his speech, Buttigieg was asked about protecting American elections from hackers.
He said a bill passed by the House would deal with that, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., won’t bring it to the floor for a vote.
“They’re embarrassed to admit we have a problem because they benefitted from it,” he said.
Another questioner asked what could be done to break the McConnell logjam in the Senate, to which Buttigieg replied that one solution is to end the Senate filibuster.
“The very best answer,” however, he said, “is for Mitch McConnell not to be majority leader any more.”