At first glance, presidential candidate and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg appears to have a promising political career with numerous opportunities ahead of him. This appearance is bolstered by the 37 year old’s impressive resume: a former Naval intelligence officer who served in Afghanistan, Rhodes Scholar, chief executive at the age of 29 of a city of more than 100,000 people and quickly rising into the top-tier of candidates in the Democratic primary. But, in reality, Buttigieg’s political future is limited if he does not win the presidency.
The cause of Buttigieg’s limitation is mostly geographical. The City of South Bend, where Buttigieg was born, is a blue dot in the red State of Indiana. President Trump defeated Secretary Clinton in Indiana by 19 points. The President’s large margin was not a fluke, as Indiana has voted for the Republican ticket in all but one presidential election since 1964, with the exception being 2008. Moreover, every single statewide office in Indiana is currently occupied by a Republican. This Republican domination of Indiana likely eliminates any possibility for Buttigieg to become a senator or governor of the state.
The House of Representatives also seems to be out of the picture for Buttigieg. The Congressional district in which South Bend is located voted for President Trump by 23 points over Secretary Clinton. The district is currently held by Republican Representative Jackie Walorski, who has represented the district since 2013. Buttigieg, if he were to run for Walorski’s seat, would clearly be the underdog against the incumbent. Thus, Buttigieg would likely be unable to advance his political career by facing the Indiana electorate.
Of course, Buttigieg could play for a cabinet position in a future Democratic White House. But this, too, is unlikely. Doing so would require Buttigieg to surrender his political autonomy and capacity to the desires of the White House. Likewise, recent history indicates that cabinet officials rarely become president. Rather, most presidents are Washington outsiders. The last cabinet official who became president was George H. W. Bush, who was President Ronald Reagan’s vice president.
The last option for Buttigieg is to relocate to and run for higher office in a blue state. Yes, this plan would require Buttigieg to leave his roots and grow new ones. But such a plan is possible, and Utah Senator Mitt Romney proved its possibility in 2018. (Romney was previously the Governor of Massachusetts.) That said, executing such a plan is extremely rare.
This lack of political opportunity for Buttigieg is likely the main cause of his decision to run for President despite his young age. Buttigieg, an intellectual, knows that adding another title to his name would strengthen a future presidential candidacy. But he also knows that attaining another title is unlikely. The only available next step for Buttigieg is the presidency.