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‘Mayor Pete’ tells Chicago crowd he’s not resting on early buzz: ‘This is a marathon’

South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg took his message to Chicago, where he said he’d create a “new normal” for Democrats — painting himself as a Midwestern leader who helped to revive a dying city.

South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg said he welcomes more candidates to an already crowded presidential field, which he called “wide open.”
South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg, one of 23 declared Democratic presidential candidates, takes questions after a City Club of Chicago speech on Thursday.
Tina Sfondeles/Sun-Times

Pete Buttigieg, the Indiana mayor trying to stand out in a crowded presidential field, brought his message to Chicago on Thursday, promising to create a “new normal” for Democrats and touting himself as a Midwestern leader who helped to revive a dying city.

That “new normal” description is also a way for the South Bend mayor to distance himself from more entrenched frontrunners in the race, including former Vice President Joe Biden.

Buttigieg, 37, also took on Alabama’s abortion ban — saying the decision makes him question “whether the discussion about freedom in this country has gone off the rails.”

And while saying a move to try to codify the Roe. vs. Wade Supreme Court decision should be “taken seriously,” he did not directly say he supports it.

With New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio jumping into the race on Thursday, there are now 23 Democrats vying for the Democratic nomination for president.

“The more the merrier,” Buttigieg quipped.

But he tried to keep the focus on beating Donald Trump.

“A lot of people, at least where I live, voted with their eyes wide open for a guy they didn’t much care for, in order to send a message that they wanted to burn the house down,” Buttigieg said during a wide-ranging speech at a City Club of Chicago luncheon. “Which is also why any suggestion that our party’s message ought to be a promise to return to normal overlooks the extent to why normal hasn’t been working for a lot of people. What we’ve got now isn’t working either, but that’s exactly why we’ve got to create a new normal.”

Buttigieg spoke about the lack of freedoms in the country, and touched upon the Alabama abortion ban: “To see, in Alabama, that if someone is raped and she seeks an abortion, the doctor who treats her will be penalized with a longer prison term than her rapist, makes me question whether the discussion about freedom in this country has gone off the rails.”

“I don’t think that you are free in this country if your reproductive health can be criminalized in government,” Buttigieg said.

Later, he was asked whether he supports codifying Roe v. Wade.

“I think that’s something that deserves to be taken seriously. I haven’t seen a full range of ideas on how to do that,” Buttigieg said.

“Some people think it has to be in the Constitution itself as a right to privacy, for example. Obviously that could be achieved legislatively, but with those rights under assault, I think the full range of responses needs to be contemplated because we can’t just keep having this play out one Supreme Court point at a time,” he said.

An audience member asked Buttigieg how he can fight for women’s rights better than a woman president.

“I think a lot us are disappointed that we don’t have a woman in office right now,” he said to applause.

“I am who I am, but what I will say is that I believe the next president must be the best president ever on women’s equality and gender inclusion, especially if the next president is going to turn out to be a man,” Buttigieg said.

The moderator asked Buttigieg if he would be “very happy” to have a female vice-president. Buttigieg nodded his head and repeated, “very happy.”

He later told reporters he’s “thrilled” he’s running ahead of some more well-known competitors but acknowledged, “It’s not like we’re in first place.”

“We’ve got a lot of favorable attention and our organization is growing, more and more. ... That doesn’t take away from the fact that this is a long run. This is a marathon. We’ve got a long way to go. We are frankly ahead of where I had hoped to be but now, we are right where I want to be.”

Buttigieg said he’ll work to consolidate support and get the Democratic organization behind him.

“It’s one thing to have a nice poll number or a good day of press clips. What we really need is the on the ground, unglamorous blocking and tackling work, especially in places like New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada. And you’ll see that via our organization and tactical focus going forward.”

The South Bend mayor entered the crowded field on April 14. If elected, he would become the youngest and the country’s first openly-gay president.