The extraordinary rise of Pete Buttigieg

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President-elect Joe Biden will nominate Pete Buttigieg to be his transportation secretary, sources familiar with the matter tell CNN, elevating the former South Bend, Indiana, mayor and 2020 Democratic presidential candidate to a top post in the federal government. CNN Jeff Zeleny reports.

Posted: Dec 16, 2020 4:21 PM
Updated: Dec 16, 2020 4:21 PM

The news that Pete Buttigieg will be President-elect Joseph Biden's nominee for Transportation Secretary is the latest step in a rather extraordinary political journey. Less than two years ago, Buttigieg was the mayor of small Midwestern city exploring a campaign for president that was the longest of long shots. Today, he is one of the most visible leaders of the Democratic Party and is likely to be confirmed to the cabinet early next year.

During the primary campaign, Buttigieg distinguished himself by articulating a kind of millennial centrism that vaulted him to the top tier of Democratic candidates. However, he dropped out before the Super Tuesday primaries and quickly endorsed Biden. In the last weeks of the general election, Buttigieg was a frequent guest on Fox News where his quick intellect, preternaturally calm temperament and steadfast opposition to Trump made him a favorite of Democrats and progressives.

Buttigieg and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris are so far the only people from what was an enormous field of Democratic contenders to find good jobs in the new administration. That will likely remain the case. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren had indicated interest in the cabinet but, because their states have Republican governors who would likely appoint Republicans to fill out any vacancy in their Senate seats, are not expected to be asked to join the administration.

None of Biden's other rivals for the nomination have been mentioned for any of the remaining cabinet positions.

Now, as Buttigieg is about to become the youngest member of Biden's cabinet and America's first out LGBTQ cabinet member, he continues to be a groundbreaking politician who, due to his obvious intellect and strong communication skills, could become the star of the Biden cabinet. He is probably the most widely known cabinet nominee after former Secretary of State John Kerry.

Despite this, Buttigieg finds himself in an intriguing position. The resume on which he ran for president included his time as mayor of South Bend, Indiana, as well as his service in the Navy in Afghanistan. None of this, or anything else in his resume, suggests expertise in public transportation, infrastructure, rail or any of the other issues with which the Department of Transportation concerns itself.

Moreover, the Department of Transportation is not exactly the highest profile cabinet position. Elaine Chao, the current occupant of that job, is known to many Americans, despite a long career in public service, because of questions about whether she abused her office to benefit her family's shipping company and her marriage to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. (A Transportation Department spokesperson told CNN last year that Chao had done nothing wrong and described allegations against her as political.) Unlike previous secretaries of state, defense, treasury and justice, her recent predecessors were even less familiar to the American people.

However, that may change for Buttigieg, who will have to face the challenge of addressing the future of air and rail travel as well as public transportation in the age of Covid-19 and its immediate aftermath. Buttigieg has a chance to distinguish himself in this regard. If a year from now Americans are traveling safely, airlines are making good profits and trains and buses are not seen as spreaders of coronavirus, the political optics would certainly be good for Buttigieg.

Buttigieg will turn 39 the day before Biden's inauguration, so he is able to think about his future with a longer horizon than many prominent politicians. However, the same reason he decided to run for president in 2020 limits his immediate political future going forward. Buttigieg comes from Indiana. That state has two Republican senators, seven Republican House members out of nine, huge Republican majorities in both houses of the state legislature and not a single Democrat elected to statewide office.

Buttigieg might have been a strong candidate for statewide office if Indiana were a better state for Democrats in general, but unless that changes, it would be a risky political move for him to run there for governor or senator after a few years in the cabinet.

Given that Buttigieg has already run for president with a resume that was somewhat thin, the question of whether he will do it again looms over this appointment. There is a logic to a future Buttigieg White House bid. His charisma, fundraising ability and name recognition could make him a formidable candidate.

However, any campaign will have to reckon with Vice President Harris either in 2024 or 2028, depending on whether Biden seeks reelection in 2024. Trying to determine who would win that race, in which there might be other candidates as well, this far in advance, is not a useful endeavor, but we know that sitting and former vice presidents have a good track record in primaries.

Buttigieg's youth will affect his planning and makes his future hard to predict. Nobody is thinking about the 2040 campaign, but Buttigieg will only be 58 then. I am not making any predictions about 2040, but this shows that Buttigieg has a lot of time to build his resume and remain in the national spotlight -- he could even be a valuable running mate to Kamala Harris in the future. He wouldn't be the first Democrat to finally get elected president decades after first running for the office.

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 604509

Reported Deaths: 7638
CountyCasesDeaths
Hennepin1249671779
Ramsey52513897
Dakota46840471
Anoka42774458
Washington27428291
Stearns22557225
St. Louis18138313
Scott17551136
Wright16379149
Olmsted13399102
Sherburne1202095
Carver1067448
Clay826192
Rice8202110
Blue Earth762644
Crow Wing681795
Kandiyohi667985
Chisago619952
Otter Tail585884
Benton582998
Goodhue483874
Douglas475581
Mower470533
Winona461351
Itasca459763
Isanti440064
McLeod430661
Morrison424762
Beltrami407861
Nobles407650
Steele397816
Polk389072
Becker386755
Lyon363853
Carlton353056
Freeborn347033
Pine334923
Nicollet331245
Mille Lacs311854
Brown307840
Le Sueur297326
Cass286232
Todd285633
Meeker263443
Waseca238023
Martin235332
Roseau211221
Wabasha20793
Hubbard196641
Dodge18783
Renville182446
Redwood176539
Houston174616
Cottonwood167124
Wadena163323
Fillmore157610
Faribault154719
Chippewa154038
Pennington153820
Kanabec146828
Sibley146810
Aitkin138937
Watonwan13579
Rock128719
Jackson122712
Pipestone116726
Yellow Medicine114920
Pope11306
Murray107110
Swift106918
Koochiching95418
Stevens92411
Clearwater89016
Marshall88817
Lake83220
Wilkin83213
Lac qui Parle75622
Big Stone6044
Grant5948
Lincoln5853
Mahnomen5669
Norman5479
Kittson49022
Unassigned48193
Red Lake4017
Traverse3775
Lake of the Woods3453
Cook1720

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 371101

Reported Deaths: 6053
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk58263640
Linn21221339
Scott20308248
Black Hawk16157312
Woodbury15240230
Johnson1462385
Dubuque13510211
Dallas1129199
Pottawattamie11228174
Story1071648
Warren583791
Clinton561593
Cerro Gordo554095
Sioux517574
Webster515894
Muscatine4882106
Marshall486976
Des Moines467672
Wapello4338122
Buena Vista426940
Jasper421172
Plymouth403181
Lee382356
Marion366076
Jones300957
Henry294637
Bremer288461
Carroll287152
Boone268634
Crawford268240
Benton259855
Washington257351
Dickinson249344
Mahaska232651
Jackson225242
Clay216727
Kossuth216166
Tama212071
Delaware211143
Winneshiek198735
Page194522
Buchanan194033
Cedar192423
Hardin187544
Fayette186643
Wright186040
Hamilton181951
Harrison180073
Clayton171057
Butler166335
Madison164619
Mills163824
Floyd163442
Cherokee159338
Lyon158841
Poweshiek157036
Allamakee152952
Hancock150334
Iowa149824
Winnebago144531
Cass139255
Calhoun138913
Grundy137233
Emmet135841
Jefferson133535
Shelby131837
Sac130920
Union130035
Louisa129649
Appanoose129049
Mitchell126643
Chickasaw124917
Franklin123523
Guthrie123332
Humboldt119626
Palo Alto113623
Howard105022
Montgomery103638
Clarke100924
Keokuk96732
Monroe96431
Unassigned9540
Ida91535
Adair87332
Pocahontas85822
Davis85225
Monona82931
Osceola78916
Greene78011
Lucas77923
Worth7618
Taylor66812
Fremont6269
Decatur6169
Ringgold56424
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