SOUTH BEND – South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg should run for president. Here’s why: He would have nothing to lose. He potentially would have a lot to gain.
Buttigieg, I think, will run for president. And will not win. Nothing to lose? But won’t win? Is there a conflict in that analysis? No. Buttigieg twice before has won by losing. He could again.
In 2010, Buttigieg, then just 28 years old, was the Democratic nominee for state treasurer. He had little name recognition initially even in hometown South Bend. He had scant financing for a statewide race and no chance, losing amid a Republican landslide to Richard Mourdock. Yes, that Richard Mourdock, the guy who went on to self-destruct in a U.S. Senate race against Joe Donnelly.
For state treasurer, Mourdock couldn’t lose and Buttigieg couldn’t win in a Republican year in which no Democrat running statewide even came close.
Except, Buttigieg won by losing. In running a race that more prominent and experienced Democrats wouldn’t risk, Buttigieg impressed party officials with his intellect and ability to articulate issues.
He especially impressed important St. Joseph County Democrats who were looking for a nominee for mayor of South Bend in 2011. Steve Luecke, longest serving mayor in South Bend history, wasn’t going to run again. Who would be a good Democratic candidate? A good mayor? Maybe Buttigieg? After all, he was a Rhodes Scholar with an impressive resume from valedictorian at South Bend’s St. Joseph High School to consultant with McKinsey & Co., a prestigious global consulting firm.
Buttigieg won the Democratic nomination for mayor in a race with formidable opponents. He won big that fall with 74% of the vote, and even bigger in his 2015 reelection, 80.4%.
Then he lost again, early in 2017 in seeking to be Democratic national chairman. And again, he won by losing. On the day of the selection by members of the Democratic National Committee, Buttigieg clearly lacked the votes to win, as the members were splitting along commitments from the old Bernie vs. Hillary fight. Buttigieg dropped out. Tom Perez won.
But Buttigieg again had been impressive, making a name nationally. He had won endorsement from three former national chairmen and from key figures in the winning campaigns of President Barack Obama. One national political analyst, Chris Cillizza, wrote that Buttigieg also was a winner with the “buzz he clearly built in the race.”
If Buttigieg sought a third term as mayor next year, he would again win big. He has a formidable reelection campaign fund and remains popular as South Bend’s image finally turns positive after decades-long doldrums from Studebaker’s automotive demise.
Another term as mayor? He likes the job, but what else does he have to prove as mayor? Is it time to seek national challenges?
If Buttigieg runs for the Democratic presidential nomination, he would be impressive in debates before the Iowa and New Hampshire contests. Maybe beyond. Think of the many horrible performances in past presidential nomination debates. Get the point? Buttigieg might not win in Iowa or New Hampshire or anywhere. Yet, he could again win by losing. He could attract more favorable national attention and impress Democratic leaders, including the eventual party nominee for president.
Leading to what? Who knows? Certainly, however, something challenging and rewarding. No unemployment.
If a Democrat wins the presidency in 2020, could Buttigieg be named to a powerful cabinet position? Or something else challenging on the national scene? If President Trump wins reelection, could Buttigieg emerge as a leading Democratic spokesman and stronger prospect for a future presidential race?
Nobody knows. 

But Buttigieg should give it a try. He should run for president. He would have nothing to lose. Potentially, he would have a lot to gain and a lot to offer. 
Colwell has covered Indiana politics over five decades for the South Bend Tribune.