Op-Ed: Buttigieg’s Challenge by J.E. Dean


It’s not easy to praise a candidate when you can’t pronounce his name. This is a problem. As the Democratic nominating process moves forward, “Mayor Pete” has to figure out what to do. Simply run as “Pete?” Try to make light of the multitude of mispronunciations out there? Turn the problem around by watching opponents stumble over your name? Remember watching 2016 candidates trying to pronounce the name of Russian President Demitri Medvedev or Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad?

Despite his name-handicap, Buttigieg seems to be doing pretty well, so far. His poll numbers are rising—he’s already ahead of better-known candidates like Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Julian Castro. He’s raising money–more than $7 million in the first quarter, for example. Most pundits predict Buttigieg is in it for the long run.

Voter interest in Buttigieg is, well, interesting. For some it’s his status as the first openly gay candidate. For others its his status as a medium size city mayor—typically disqualifying. For “Mayor Pete,” it’s prompted curiosity. Who is this guy? Where, exactly, is South Bend? Then there is his background as a veteran and the fact he’s from Indiana. Both are likely to attract Republican voters. If the Democrats can be guaranteed to win Indiana, they are likely to win nationally.

Among the Democratic base, Buttigieg should be solid. His policy positions are those of a mainstream 2020 Democrat. Healthcare for all through a single-payer system, the Green Deal, addressing income inequality, and promoting LGBT rights. So far, he has also come across as intelligent—as the Rhodes Scholar graduate of Harvard and Oxford that he is. Detractors focusing on his negatives will suggest he can’t deliver Indiana or that his demographics will not generate the enthusiasm necessary to win.

Buttigieg’s chances are likely to rise or fall based on how he does when directly matched up with his opponents. He will either disappear quickly, perhaps being awarded with the consolation price of being a “rising star” in the party, or the party faithful, hungry to regain the White House, will adopt him as an effective counterpoint to Donald Trump—someone tested not only in battle (Afghanistan) but also as a gay man in a conservative State.are

Watch Buttigieg with interest. But if you want him to win, figure out how to pronounce his name.

J.E. Dean of Oxford, writes on policy and politics based on more than 30 years working with non-profits and others interested in domestic policy. He is an advocate for the environment, civil public debate, and good government.

Letters to Editor

  1. His name is perfectly phonetic in Malta where his family is from. In my case, going out to lunch with the guy I worked under in grad school and another prof. the second guy commented on my name. My boss said “Harry! It is perfectly phonetic.”

  2. Buttigieg. I have trouble with the spelling, too, and his sexual orientation may pose challenges, but his intellect, his ideas, and his words are so welcomed.

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