SOUTH BEND – Cold and pouring rain usually is viewed as nothing positive, even as a disaster, for planners of an outside event. But those conditions were a factor in the positive national news coverage of the announcement of presidential candidacy by South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

The announcement was planned for Sunday at a major downtown intersection, with nearby streets blocked off, providing space for a crowd of up to 10,000. It seemed likely that the crowd would be the largest in 51 years for a political rally in downtown South Bend. Maybe it would even top the crowd of an estimated 6,000 at the legendary 1968 Dyngus Day rally as Bobby Kennedy spoke on the steps of the courthouse. That has been regarded as the largest gathering ever for a downtown political speech.

Then came the forecast for terrible weather. The forecast proved accurate. So, the decision was made to move the event inside, but not to some auditorium. The announcement was switched to an inside site that hardly seemed inside at all. No heat. Leaks in the roof getting many members of the audience wet as the rain continued.

The site was a long-abandoned part of the former Studebaker automotive assembly complex. Auto production ended there in 1963.

Mike Schmuhl, Buttigieg’s campaign manager (pictured), said the site would provide symbolism as well as shelter. It’s between an old building still looking much like the past and a building with extensive rehab for new, modern office and commercial space.

In his TV interviews and in his book, “Shortest Way Home,” Buttigieg tells of South Bend moving from old days of defeatist “can’t do” doldrums after Studebaker closed to a new, positive attitude bringing economic development and halting population decline. He places himself in the middle, not single-handedly bringing change but as a catalyst in developing “can do” enthusiasm and programs.

Most of the national news accounts told of the place packed to a maximum capacity of about 4,500. No new record. Although there were reports of another 1,500 in an overflow crowd outside at the start.

Television showed and newspaper accounts told of the wild enthusiasm. The fact that the well-written, well-delivered and well-received speech came in an old, cold building from days of Studebaker fit right in with the story Buttigieg told of South Bend, old and new.

One example of the story reported to the nation is the lead of a front-page account in the Chicago Tribune: “With a drenching April rain dripping through the cracked roof of a former Studebaker automobile building on the edge of downtown, Pete Buttigieg… “

That so many people would walk for so many blocks through the rain, with the temperature hovering at 36 degrees, to find the old building somewhere in the midst of what had long seemed destined to meet the wrecking ball showed real dedication, real support for Buttigieg.

Many more would have gathered on a sunny day on downtown streets. But how many would have been just curious onlookers, not necessarily committed supporters? And an outside site would not have brought such focus on Studebaker and on a unique place for a presidential announcement.

The cold and rain certainly wasn’t pleasant for the folks who attended. Those who traveled for hundreds, even thousands of miles to be there didn’t seem to mind as they bonded in cheering and applauding.

It rained on Mayor Pete’s parade. Yet, the parade of enthusiastic supporters slogged on to a new site that was old and leaking, a factor in positive news coverage that would have been missing on a sunny day. 

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