SOUTH BEND – Democratic primary election voters on May 7 will likely pick the next mayor of South Bend, the successor to Mayor Pete Buttigieg. There are nine candidates for the Democratic nomination, five of whom are viable.

The winner almost certainly will be elected mayor in the general election this November. A Republican hasn’t won the mayoral election since 1967, and recent GOP efforts in city elections have been pathetic.
 
The leading contenders based on their ability thus far to get out their messages and attract significant support are:
     
James Mueller, Buttigieg’s former chief of staff, who has the most significant support of all, an endorsement from Mayor Pete. He also has the most funding, according to campaign finance reports, enabling him to continue to send out his message widely in mailings and on TV. Television advertising could be especially effective this time.
 
Jason Critchlow, former St. Joseph County Democratic chairman, who has significant support from prominent Democrats who admire ability he showed as chairman. He is second to Mueller in campaign funding. He surprised Mueller by getting on first with effective TV. Whether he can continue to match Mueller on TV is important.
     
Why the significance of TV this time?
     
It’s because viewers haven’t been turned off already by myriad TV ads for presidential, congressional, or gubernatorial races or all kinds of other state and county offices. Those offices aren’t up this year. So, there has been no blizzard of political ads to annoy viewers and cause them to tune out political messages.
     
Also, with Mayor Pete’s presidential campaign capturing such attention, there has been little oxygen left for the city candidates. Many are upset about lack of voter interest and awareness as the election fast approaches.
     
Voters will take more interest now, with many learning about the candidates from their TV messages over the last week of the campaign.
     
But money isn’t everything in campaigns. Neither are TV ads.
     
Three other candidates are viable, with followers and messages of their own.             
Could one of them come up through the middle of the Mueller-Critchlow battle and win? There are plausible scenarios for just that.
     
The three other viable mayoral candidates are:
     
Lynn Coleman, a past Democratic nominee for Congress, who is well known from his congressional race and decades of involvement in city government. He is well liked and admired for his congressional campaign effort in a hopeless race. He was the leader in an early poll taken for Mueller. His name recognition was a big factor early, and it still could be.
     
Regina Williams-Preston, 2nd District council member, who emerged as the anti-Pete in national news stories about whether South Bend really has turned around. She is highly critical of what the mayor cites as a major achievement, fixing up or tearing down over 1,000 unoccupied and deteriorating houses in 1,000 days. She has support in progressive Democratic ranks.
     
Oliver Davis, 6th District council member, who has name recognition from his years on the council and involvement in citywide issues. His message is out on a flurry of yard signs, a campaign approach he hails and believes he has perfected. He would have been a favorite for reelection as councilman but decided instead to pursue his goal of mayor.
     
The endorsement by Mayor Pete looms large in this race. But it’s difficult to transfer popularity in politics.
     
While Buttigieg is at the height of his popularity here in his eighth year as mayor and quickly rising presidential prospect, that doesn’t automatically mean that Mueller, his choice to carry on his programs, will win.
     
Buttigieg took a risk in endorsing and channeling campaign resources to Mueller. The national news media and presidential primary opponents will take note if his choice is rejected. Mayor Pete’s name isn’t on the primary election ballot this time. Or is it? 

Colwell has covered Indiana politics over five decades for the South Bend Tribune.