In a post I wrote last week, I said that I didn’t think Pete Buttigieg could win North Carolina because the state isn’t ready to elect a gay man president. I should have said more. I don’t believe Buttigieg can win North Carolina and I don’t believe he will be the Democratic nominee, but I do believe he has run the most extraordinary campaign of the election cycle. 

Mayor Pete first came on my radar screen when he decided to run for chair of the Democratic National Committee shortly after Trump won the presidency. He traveled the country making the case for new leadership and working with organizations popping up to recruit candidates and register voters. He was clearly a smart guy committed to rebuilding the Democratic Party in the wake of a devastating loss. He was impressive but also seemed to have limited political options coming from a state that has become as red as Indiana.

I was surprised when I saw him jump into the presidential race but was quickly impressed with his performance. He made himself available to reporters in candid interviews and came across as more thoughtful than most politicians. He seems unflappable and quickly built a loyal following. 

Today, Buttigieg is among the top five contenders among a field that started out with a bunch of people with much meatier resumes. His success shows a political savviness that heralds a bright career. It also shows that he’s tapped into a sentiment of more moderate voters who still want something different from what we’ve had. They are moderate change voters who place smarts and savvy above experience. Mayor Pete’s had an amazing run.

Back in April I wrote a piece called “Listen to Mayor Pete.” In it, I concluded, “I don’t believe a 37-year-old gay man who’s entire political career consists of serving as mayor of a city of 100,000 can win the nomination for President of the United States…That said, I do believe he can lead a wing of the Democratic Party that’s less enamored with the false promises of socialism than the Bernie wing of the party seems to be.” 

I’m still there. Right now, I don’t have faith that enough of my fellow North Carolinians will support a gay candidate to overcome the backlash against one. I would love to be proven wrong. I also think that as we get closer to voting, more people will have doubts about Buttigieg’s thin political resume. And finally, I think that his age will be a liability. There may not be a single factor that lowers the ceiling of his support, but I believe the combination of factors makes it hard for him to win the nomination. If he does, I’ll be among the most pleasantly surprised and among his most ardent supporters.

All of that said, the fact that his sexual orientation plays so little role in his candidacy says a lot about how far we’ve come as a nation. Mayor Pete is not seen as “the gay candidate” and his nomination is a real possibility. We’re making progress when we can judge people based on their ideas and capabilities instead of the color of their skin or their sexual orientation. That gives me a little hope for the future.

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