SOUTH BEND  — Sputnik calling. Never, a year ago, could I have imagined Russia’s International News Agency Sputnik seeking comment about a contrived conspiracy theory aimed at Mayor Pete.

Or that South Bend’s Pete Buttigieg would be the frontrunner in delegates for the Democratic presidential nomination after the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary. Or that the city’s river lights would be ridiculed in a political attack by former Vice President Joe Biden.

Or that I would be interviewed by journalists from six foreign countries. Would have been eight if communications with Australia worked and if I agreed to an interview with Sputnik, a spreader of Kremlin propaganda.

Well, a lot that couldn’t have been imagined a year ago has happened as former Mayor Buttigieg, then such a long, long long shot for the Democratic nomination, has become a top contender, within a whisker of knocking off Bernie Sanders in the New Hampshire primary.

If the Russians want to promote disinformation about Buttigieg, does that mean that Putin’s spreaders of fake news fear a former mayor of South Bend as a threat to win the presidency? Maybe not. But chances are that they aren’t interested now in promoting conspiracy theories about Andrew Yang.

A year ago, I was wrong, although also right. Buttigieg winning the most delegates in the first tests, Iowa and New Hampshire? No way. Wrong. He did. Buttigieg making a strong showing in debates, enhancing national prestige and having a good showing in Iowa? Yes. Right about that.

Buttigieg still is a long shot for the nomination, but not nearly as long a shot as a year ago. Pundits would be calling him the favorite now if Sen. Amy Klobuchar hadn’t come on so impressively in New Hampshire to snare so many votes in the “moderate” lane and keep Buttigieg from actually defeating Sanders in a huge upset.

Biden’s coloring of the river lights as blah in comparison with other “issues” had no effect in keeping Buttigieg from a win. Biden, clearly uncomfortable with the attack, was no doubt pushed into it by campaign strategists in desperation to avoid his disastrous showing in New Hampshire.

The requests by journalists from around the world for interviews about what the former mayor did or didn’t do here and what he’s really like couldn’t have been imagined a year ago. Interest of the news media in this country is understandable as a young mayor from a middle-sized city in Indiana suddenly appeared on the national scene. But a camera crew from Japan? Multiple requests from England, France and Canada as well as from Japan? Stories in publications in Denmark and Slovenia?

There is interest around the world in what is happening in America and what will happen in the presidential election. Is America in tune with President Trump? Will the election bring a different tune? And if there is to be a new president, who might that be? Could it possibly be this young guy with credentials as mayor of South Bend, wherever that is?

They found South Bend. Their stories on Buttigieg after seeking information here and along the campaign trail, differ in analysis of whether he is a solid contender or a contender whose time has not yet come. One winner in all of this attention seems to be South Bend. Visitors from afar often express surprise at finding a Rust Belt city in this strange Indiana that isn’t as rusty as they might have envisioned.

One journalist for a publication abroad sent an email saying she found “people very friendly in a way you don’t experience in New York, where I’m based, or Washington, D.C., where I go often.” Will we continue to hear from journalists like that and from Sputnik? 

Depends on what happens next in Nevada, South Carolina and the states voting on Super Tuesday. 

Jack Colwell is a columnist for The  South Bend Tribune. Write to him in care of The Tribune or by email at jcolwell@comcast.net.