WASHINGTON  — As the Democratic presidential field starts to form, the easiest thing to do is count out South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg. Even though we’re at a moment of peak volatility in American politics, it’s hard to imagine that a 37-year-old, openly gay man who is married to another man can achieve something that’s never been accomplished – going directly from city hall to the White House.

But before dismissing Buttigieg as a novelty who will never break single digits in the polls – if he can even make it to that lofty level – consider what he uniquely offers to a party that was stunned to lose the Oval Office to Donald J. Trump a little more than two years ago.

Those traits were on display last Sunday in Washington at the bookstore Politics and Prose, where Buttigieg introduced his new book, “Shortest Way Home,” which chronicles what he’s learned as the chief executive of a midwestern city whose turnaround he helped engineer. The book cracked the New York Times best seller list this week at No. 11. He brings his book tour to Indianapolis on Sunday, with a 2 p.m. appearance at IUPUI's Hine Hall Auditorium. Here's what you'll likely learn from Mayor Pete:

Youthful idealism. Buttigieg’s relative inexperience can be an asset. He’s not been involved in the gritty politics of Congress, where compromising your ideals is often necessary to maintain your grip on power or your access to campaign funds. Buttigieg can rightfully claim he is not a career politician. In fact, at his age, he’s not had a long career doing anything. He brings to the race private sector experience at a consulting firm and a military background that includes service in Afghanistan.

He also can tackle big questions, such as the “freedom, democracy and security” pillars of his campaign, with youthful brio. “What responsibility do we have to our future selves?” he said during his Washington appearance.

Intelligence. During a time in politics when connecting with the common person often results in a race to the rhetorical bottom, Buttigieg can make it cool again to be smart. Like former President Barack Obama, the former Rhodes scholar is effortlessly erudite. During his Politics and Prose appearance, Buttigieg referred to competing philosophies – utilitarianism and the idealism of Immanuel Kant – to describe the challenges of allocating city services. He used the economic concept of the Pareto principle to discuss how to make many people better off while limiting the number who become worse off.

Yes, listening to Buttigieg may require consulting a dictionary or Googling economic and philosophical concepts. But it’s a nice change of pace when a politician makes the electorate think rather than insults its intelligence with crude Twitter rants.

Rhetorical skill. Buttigieg is not a programmed politician who resorts to talking points regardless of the questions he’s asked by the media or voters. Instead, he responds thoughtfully.

For instance, he supports a single-payer health care system. But rather than rely on shopworn liberal arguments for such an approach, he turns the tables on conservative criticism by using a word that conservatives often deploy, “freedom.”

Buttigieg says Democrats need to win the battle of ideas before they can prevail on specific policies. He uses health care to illustrate his point.

Speaking before about 500 people at the Politics and Prose event, Buttigieg said he supports Medicare for all. He argued that if people have confidence that they will always have health care coverage, they will be more emboldened to take risks, such as leaving their jobs to start a new company.

“I believe Medicare for all enhances freedom,” Buttigieg said. “We need to have a wider idea of what freedom means.”

Authenticity. Buttigieg embodies one of his goals in entering the race – making the American political landscape more inclusive. He’s starting to do that through his own example.

Even in Democratic South Bend, it was a political risk to come out as a homosexual. He made the decision while thinking through what he wanted out of life while he was risking his in Afghanistan.

“I wanted to have a personal life,” Buttigieg said. “You only get one life. You only get to be one person.”

He wants to make more Americans feel as if they have a place in the country’s political landscape.

“Politics is about how people feel about themselves,” he said.

Winning in red states. The biggest challenge Buttigieg faces is electability. His critics will question how he can take Democrats to victory nationally when he would be hard pressed to win his own state – and maybe even his own congressional district – in a presidential race.

Unlike Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who mounted a serious challenge to a Republican senator in a red state, Buttigieg has shied away from taking his brand of politics statewide in Indiana.

Nonetheless, he’s confident.

“We’re living in a moment that’s calling for newcomers and…underdogs,” he said.  v

Schoeff is HPI’s Washington correspondent.