South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg pushed back Friday on the idea a gay candidate couldn’t win election as president, saying the nation was “absolutely” ready.
Buttigieg, whom many polls show is the front-runner in Iowa and New Hampshire, made the remarks during a forum hosted by national political reporter Robert Costa at the Washington Post headquarters.
The 2020 hopeful was quick to point out he won reelection as South Bend mayor in 2015 with 80 percent of the vote right after he came out as gay.
“Mike Pence was the governor of Indiana, no mayor of Indiana had ever come out, and so there was no way really to know what to expect,” Buttigieg said.
Costa however responded, the City of South Bend is different from the nation as a whole. It should be noted, the city is heavily Democratic and has a population of just over 100,000.
But Buttigieg insisted his win there has broader implications.
“If it can happen in Mike Pence’s Indiana, it can happen anywhere in this nation,” Buttigieg said.
According to recent polls, voters say they’re ready to support a gay candidate for president, but are not sure their neighbor is.
One Morning Consult poll in October revealed 50 percent of voters say they were ready to back a gay candidate, compared to 37 percent who were not. But only 40 percent said they think the nation is ready, compared to 45 percent who say otherwise.
Buttigieg’s sexual orientation also came up during event in the context of the daily attacks from President Trump on Twitter. Asked how he’d handle his hostility, Buttigieg pointed out he grew up gay in Indiana.
“Well, first of all, I’m gay and grew up gay in Indiana,” Buttigieg said to laughter, “so I’m used to [it]. That kind of schoolyard doesn’t bother me. I’ve also seen a lot worse incoming than a tweet full of typos.”
Referencing a recent rally in which Trump said he dreamed of Buttigieg, the candidate’s sexual orientation was an elephant in the room.
“It will admit that it did bother me when he said he that he dreams about me,” Buttigieg said to laughs. “I don’t know what exactly goes on, but I am certain that I want absolutely nothing to do with them.”
Costa also asked Buttigieg to address complaints he isn’t progressive enough, referencing protesters who’ve called him a corporatist and “Pete Romney.”
“It is a little strange because I think that I broadly share the same values and goals as a lot of these folks,” Buttigieg said.
The candidate said he wants greater accountability for corporations, higher taxes on corporations, a living wage, greater union membership. Buttigieg added that’s “not just because that’s the position of my party.”
“My city was destroyed by economic failures and greed that had left their mark before I was even born and we have spent our lifetime clawing our way out it,” Buttigieg said. “So I’m under no illusions about all the ways in which our current economic system has failed us.”
Faced with low support from black voters, Buttigieg was also asked about a report from Democracy & Color finding only 3 percent percentage of South Bend hiring and contracts go to minority workers.
In response, Buttigieg said the very fact that data is available is the result of his work as mayor, pointing out he created the first Office of Diversity & Inclusion in city to create a plan for acting and gathering information.
“When I took office, we didn’t have the resources to even gather the data on what was going on, but we knew that as a city, we needed to do a better job of doing business with businesses owned by African Americans because nobody has a better track record of creating economic opportunity for minority employees than remote employees,” Buttigieg said.
Although Buttigieg only made 3 percent of government contractors go to minority businesses, his plan for 25 percent of U.S. contracts to go to minority-owned businesses.
“There’s no reason why we can’t have 25 percent of taxpayer resources that are spent with businesses somewhere, going out in a way that’s actually going to increase opportunity with businesses led by those who’ve been excluded,” Buttigieg said.