Jack Colwell: Buttigieg's quest for the DNC chair
Thursday, January 19, 2017 9:23 AM
SOUTH BEND – Are the odds great or small that South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg will become the Democratic national chairman? Let’s consider some questions about that.
Q. Is Buttigieg almost sure to be Demo chair, as some politicians already jockeying to replace him as mayor seem to think?
A. No. Nothing is certain. It’s not even certain that the candidate with the most votes will win. There’s nothing like the Electoral College to trump the candidate with the most votes in this contest. But there could be multiple ballots of the 447 Democratic National Committee members in late February. If the top vote getter on the initial ballot doesn’t have a clear majority, that person could lose out in maneuvering in additional balloting.
Q. But does Pete have a chance?
A. Yes. He wouldn’t be a candidate if he had no chance of being competitive. He is, however, not regarded as a frontrunner.
Q. Didn’t he say at one point when he was first being mentioned that he was not a candidate to lead the party?
A. Yes. He said that in a mid-December “letter from flyover country” in which he urged Democrats to focus on views and needs of people in middle America, not just on “The Show” in Washington. He was being cautious. Like many potential candidates, whether for public office or party chair, Buttigieg was sending up a trial balloon, talking about goals but not announcing he would seek to be the one to implement them.
Q. What if the balloon never got off the ground?
A. Then he would not be a candidate. But the balloon floated. He was taken seriously. He announced, with national publications and TV networks describing him in terms such as “rising Democratic Party star,” not laughing him off as just some mayor of some middle-sized city in the Rust Belt.”
Q. How could Buttigieg win?
A. By coming up through the middle, between the two candidates now regarded as frontrunners, one endorsed by Bernie Sanders and the progressive wing of the party, the other backed by some long-time supporters of Hillary Clinton and to some extent by the White House. Many DNC members, however, don’t want to keep fighting the last presidential primary battles. They might turn to another choice rather than to U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, who battled for Sanders, or Labor Secretary Tom Perez, choice of many Clinton supporters.
Q. Could Buttigieg be that compromise choice, somebody from outside Washington and in the crucial middle ground that Democrats lost as they won big on both coasts?
A. Maybe. Maybe not. There are four regional forums at which the candidates make presentations, one this weekend in Phoenix. They could cement the chances of one of the frontrunners or produce an eventual compromise winner, Buttigieg or somebody else.
Q. How does this quest for chairman fit in with Pete’s long-range game plan for his political future?
A. It doesn’t. If he had some detailed game plan in the past of what to run for when, it certainly didn’t include running for DNC chair in 2017. Buttigieg has always said he has no game plan for quickly moving up the political ladder. He cites faulty speculation that he wouldn’t complete his first term as mayor before moving on. He stayed and won a second term. He would resign now as mayor if named chair. But if not, he could even be around to seek a third term in a job he clearly enjoys and that now gives him a national platform.
Q. Would a loss for chair hurt Buttigieg politically?
A. No. Not now. If his trial balloon had been shot down amid laughter about a mayor of South Bend thinking he could do the job, that would have been bad. The balloon floats, successfully, with uncertain political currents to determine whether it travels all the way from “flyover country” to the DNC.
Colwell has been covering Indiana politics over five decades for the South Bend Tribune