I’m voting for Pete Buttigieg in the South Carolina Primary.

From May 2019 through January 2020, I served as the state digital director for Cory Booker’s presidential campaign in the Palmetto State. After my candidate withdrew, I narrowed my choice to Buttigieg and Warren, despite their pronounced ideological differences.

I arrived at these two folks using the following criteria. I want a Democratic nominee who:

  • is an exceptional communicator;
  • draws a strong and obvious contrast with Donald Trump;
  • has run a well-organized and smart campaign; and
  • will help Democrats down the ballot in places like South Carolina.

Warren is a woman. Buttigieg is young. These are the most obvious contrasts with Trump now that no people of color remain in the contest as viable options.

Warren and Buttigieg are both effective anti-corruption messengers. I think this is the strongest message to run against Donald Trump. South Carolina Frontrunner Joe Biden is particularly ill-suited to deliver an anti-corruption message at the moment given the muddy waters surrounding Biden’s son Hunter’s involvement with the Ukraine energy company Burisma.

There are other reasons Biden isn’t our strongest choice:

  • His campaign has struggled with fundraising for the entire primary, not an issue a candidate of his stature should have.
  • He has a record in Washington, DC that spans nearly half a century — lots of votes to exploit.
  • His tendency to stick his foot in his mouth is well-documented.
  • He’s 77 years old.

But the purpose of this post is to make the case for Buttigieg’s candidacy. These are are the reasons I’m voting for Pete Buttigieg in the South Carolina Democratic Primary.

I like that his “E.Q.” is as high as his “I.Q.”

Buttigieg’s I.Q. and academic credentials are well-documented. He’s a Rhodes Scholar, he speaks eleventy kabillion languages, yadda yadda yadda.

I do actually care about all of that stuff, but what’s particularly special about Buttigieg — and was also the case with my first choice and former boss Cory Booker — is his “E.Q.” (emotional quotient, as opposed to intelligence quotient).

We talk a lot about having the experience to be president, but does any other job on the planet actually offer experience comparable to the president’s? I’d argue “no.” Don’t get me wrong: I’d prefer a candidate have experience and relationships in Washington than not. That’s one reason I supported Booker first in this race.

But personal characteristics are more important to me than Washington experience. (Frankly, too much Washington experience is a bad thing for electoral prospects. Republicans have already written hundreds of attack ads distorting Biden’s half a century in DC.)

Buttigieg exudes calmness and rationality. He has a number of traits reminiscent of Barack Obama, but this one stands out most.

For the last three years, we’ve had a president whose decision-making is driven by emotion and self-interest. I’m ready for a president who honors his oath of office to operate in the best interest of the United States by using reason, empathy, and good judgment when processing information and making executive decisions.

I like that he seeks common ground with those who disagree.

This trait of his drives a lot of partisan Democrats crazy. It’s uncouth in this era of extreme polarization to genuinely want to work with the other side. Naive. Unsophisticated. We watched as Obama took a genuine commitment to bipartisanship to Washington only to face an even stronger commitment to intransigence from Mitch McConnell and Republican leadership. They refused to compromise, so why should we?

Well, because it’s the right thing to do. And it’s what Americans want their leaders to do. I haven’t given up on the notion that our leaders ought to work together.

I like that he is young.

Mayor Pete Buttigieg on the Late Show making the case for a younger president.

Buttigieg’s youth is an asset and not a liability, especially when running against a septuagenarian.

He and I came of age during two formative experiences:

  • 9/11 and the war in the Middle East
  • the Great Recession

These events shaped us, and they shape our future. Buttigieg understands this in a fundamental way that no Baby Boomer does.

It’s time to turn the page to a future not run by Baby Boomers. Buttigieg has a personal stake in what happens 50 years from now when Biden, Warren, Bloomberg, Steyer, Sanders, and Trump will be worm food.

And as I mentioned in my ideal candidate criteria up top, the most effective way to run against an incumbent is to draw a strong contrast, not just on substance but on literal characteristics — like age. Trump is old. Running a young person against him reminds folks of Trump’s age and projects the Democratic Party as the party of the future.

I like how he speaks freely and comfortably about Christian values.

CNN segment on Buttigieg and the influence of his Christian faith

Yep, I just said my #4 reason for supporting the gay guy is his commitment to his Christian faith and values. This idea is not paradoxical or farfetched. If you think it is, A.) you’re likely over the age of 50 and B.) you are wrong. If you can’t reconcile the idea that a gay person can be a devout Christian and committed to family values, that’s your problem , not Buttigieg’s. Ask your grandkid what she thinks about it.

In a recent CNN Town Hall, Buttigieg was ready when moderators raised this issue:

“One thing about my marriage is it’s never involved me having to send hush money to a porn star after cheating on my spouse.” …

He added: “So, if they want to debate family values, let’s debate family values, I’m ready.”

I like what his difficulties winning over voters of color show us.

Mayor Pete Buttigieg participates in a live audience interview with Charlemange Tha God at the Atlantis Restaurant & Lounge in Moncks Corner, SC Jan 23, 2020. Photo Credit: Chuck Kennedy/PFA

Huh? His biggest electoral problem is a reason to vote for him? Hear me out. Yes, Buttigieg’s current standing with voters of color is a problem. But what he’s doing about this problem is a testament to his character. I believe that as long as he continues to work diligently, respectfully, and in good faith to forge a meaningful relationship with the people of these communities, that trust and mutual respect will eventually follow.

I can’t and won’t try to speak for people of color. And I don’t think the initial skepticism of some people of color toward Pete is unwarranted. His tenure as mayor of South Bend includes some ugly spots on race issues. He should have to answer for those. Does he take responsibility for his shortcomings? Does he make an ongoing effort to listen to the people of these communities and learn from them? Does he act on what he’s learned and work to bring about real improvements and solutions?

He’s been open about his struggle to gain traction in the black community. He’s shown humility and authenticity in his efforts to address the issue. And we white folks haven’t helped matters by jumping to conclusions about the root cause of Buttigieg’s low numbers in the black community. We may not say it out loud, but many white people say in whisper tones that black people haven’t warmed up to Buttigieg because black people are homophobic.

Well, I don’t think that. It’s an awfully uncharitable assumption. The likely reason many black people aren’t backing Buttigieg is because they don’t know him well enough yet, let alone trust him. He’s still new and unfamiliar. He entered this national contest as a complete unknown, unlike Biden, Sanders, and Warren. And he didn’t have a limitless advertising budget like Tom Steyer. Plus he was competing with 25 other Democrats for the spotlight.

If a lovably dorky California environmentalist white guy can earn the love and trust of black voters, I’m confident that a lovably dorky combat veteran from the industrial Midwest who talks freely and authentically about his Christian faith can earn their trust and respect too.

I like that he fought for our country.

We Democrats haven’t shown that we esteem military service as we should. We are quick to accuse Buttigieg of not having enough experience to be president, but we rarely factor in that he has led troops in combat and risked his life for our country. This gives him a vantage point about the consequences of military action that none of the other viable candidates in this race have.

I like that he moved home and built his life there.

This is a personal one for me. After living in glamorous cities in my 20s and early 30s, life circumstances took me home to rural South Carolina. I ended up falling in love and deciding to stay. I’ve found so much meaning in being a part of a rural community, where I have forged beautiful friendships with all different types of people. When I lived in Washington, DC, I didn’t have any friends who weren’t college-educated. And, with the exception of three or four Palmetto State Republicans, I didn’t have any friends in DC who held a different world view from my own. I didn’t have any friends from other generations. My life is richer now because of my friendships with folks like my YMCA friends: Jimmy in his Trump ball cap and Mrs. Gertrude, the octogenarian black lady in her pristine purple sweatsuits and perfectly-coiffed hair.

Darlington County, South Carolina is my home, and South Bend, Indiana is Buttigieg’s home. Both of us had the opportunity to leave and never come back. Most in our generation with college degrees have. We are losing something as a country as smart kids from rural or industrial places grow up and leave for good.

Having a president who understands the challenges and struggles of places like South Bend and Darlington County will help create opportunities to guard against “brain drain” and help change this culture we live in that increasingly drives high-achieving college graduates to places like DC, New York, and San Francisco and not back home.

This is important to me for reasons unrelated to politics, but there is also an electoral benefit. College graduates’ flocking to major urban centers is a key reason Democrats are losing elections while winning the popular vote.

I like the way he’s run his campaign.

In the 2008 election, one of the main ways Obama pushed back on the criticism that he lacked the experience to be president was the strength of his campaign itself. These national campaigns employ thousands of people across the country and operate to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars. Building and running a viable presidential campaign shows a candidate’s abilities as an executive.

This is true of Pete Buttigieg. The 38 year old mayor of the third largest city in Indiana should not still be in this presidential contest. He was supposed to be a “flash in the pan.” A “flavor of the day.” Yet here he is, currently in second place in the delegate contest. Pete Buttigieg is one of the brightest and most talented politicians of my generation. He wouldn’t be where he is right now if he weren’t. Yes, he’s benefited from white male privilege, but it’s unfair and inaccurate to attribute all or even most of Buttigieg’s success to this advantage.

I still remember the first time I stumbled on a late night television interview with Buttigieg. His talent blew me away. I thought right then that he’d be the first openly gay president, and I still believe will be the case — whether it’s this election or not. (The only other no-name politician whose skills impressed me this much were those of first-term state Representative Nikki Haley when I heard her speak at Palmetto Girls State.)

But you don’t get this far on raw talent or raw talent plus privilege. Buttigieg has run a smart campaign.

Note: Exceeding expectations in New Hampshire is noteworthy because the caucus debacle in Iowa probably screwed Buttigieg more than any other candidate. His whole campaign strategy was to crush it in Iowa. He did. Under normal circumstances, Buttigieg probably would have prevailed in the media narrative then as the most viable moderate alternative to Bernie Sanders. Instead, the caucus disaster became the story, which cost Pete the positive media coverage he was depending on to fuel the next leg of his campaign.

I like Pete Buttigieg. I think he’d be our strongest nominee.

Pete Buttigieg’s path to the nomination is narrow. This reality has made me hesitate to offer a full-throated endorsement of him at this point in the process. Sanders appears poised to continue winning in upcoming states, and if he wins big in California on Super Tuesday, he may hold and insurmountable delegate lead at that point. Meanwhile, Biden is rising in the South Carolina polls, looks likely to win here, and will aim to ride that momentum into Super Tuesday, arguing he alone ought to take on Sanders. Still, the delegate math path doesn’t seem to be there for anyone but Sanders.

After much hemming and hawing, I decided to share my thoughts anyway.

At times during this primary election process, I have lost sight of what we’re doing here — and lost sight of the fact that this whole thing isn’t a game. The stakes are higher in this election than any election of our lifetimes. Instead of approaching the ballot box as some sort of tactical exercise, I decided to declare my support for the candidate who most closely shares my values and the candidate I believe has the best chance to beat Donald Trump in November. Pete Buttigieg is that candidate. He has run an exceptionally strong campaign and would serve the Democratic Party well as its standard-bearer.

I am proud to cast my vote for Pete Buttigieg in the South Carolina Primary.