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: 489116

Reported Deaths: 6614
CountyCasesDeaths
Hennepin1014901592
Ramsey43327810
Dakota36619394
Anoka33496391
Washington22208262
Stearns18822202
St. Louis14887265
Scott13403107
Wright12609116
Olmsted1185990
Sherburne878574
Carver787641
Clay695588
Rice677691
Blue Earth601035
Kandiyohi581274
Crow Wing523582
Chisago501745
Otter Tail486071
Benton450990
Winona419749
Mower410831
Douglas394568
Goodhue389069
Nobles387247
Polk345063
McLeod341250
Beltrami338951
Morrison327747
Becker314842
Itasca314646
Lyon313845
Isanti309456
Steele303611
Carlton300449
Freeborn286424
Pine283216
Nicollet262441
Todd249730
Brown248237
Le Sueur238120
Mille Lacs229447
Cass221224
Waseca210417
Meeker208134
Martin190829
Wabasha18733
Roseau181017
Hubbard161041
Houston158214
Dodge15404
Renville152640
Redwood147127
Fillmore13969
Pennington138716
Chippewa136935
Cottonwood136020
Wadena131420
Faribault124917
Aitkin119133
Sibley118310
Watonwan11828
Rock116314
Kanabec108820
Pipestone101824
Yellow Medicine97717
Murray9548
Jackson94610
Swift87818
Pope8165
Marshall78615
Stevens7478
Lake74218
Clearwater72014
Lac qui Parle68716
Wilkin67711
Koochiching62111
Big Stone5173
Lincoln5122
Grant4928
Norman4798
Unassigned44768
Mahnomen4437
Kittson41021
Red Lake3615
Traverse3115
Lake of the Woods2221
Cook1190

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 337676

Reported Deaths: 5494
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk52087560
Linn19512317
Scott17167212
Black Hawk14970293
Woodbury13847214
Johnson1317075
Dubuque12450196
Dallas1022593
Pottawattamie9897146
Story965045
Warren514976
Clinton502684
Cerro Gordo501383
Webster495788
Sioux480369
Marshall465273
Des Moines428461
Muscatine426393
Buena Vista413237
Wapello4059110
Jasper387767
Plymouth368978
Lee354653
Marion341571
Jones285155
Henry279837
Bremer270555
Carroll266948
Crawford253635
Boone244330
Benton241154
Washington239547
Mahaska215746
Jackson210339
Dickinson204240
Tama203065
Kossuth198655
Delaware186240
Clay184425
Winneshiek183628
Fayette179335
Page178119
Buchanan177829
Wright174531
Hamilton173942
Cedar172723
Hardin170239
Harrison167670
Clayton160254
Butler159331
Mills148520
Floyd148141
Poweshiek148030
Cherokee146236
Lyon145741
Allamakee144848
Madison143218
Iowa140723
Hancock138030
Grundy132430
Winnebago130531
Calhoun129611
Cass129651
Jefferson128634
Appanoose123247
Louisa122644
Mitchell120740
Chickasaw119915
Union119331
Sac118818
Shelby117634
Emmet115340
Humboldt113725
Franklin109719
Guthrie109628
Palo Alto101721
Howard99722
Unassigned9720
Montgomery96936
Clarke95120
Keokuk92429
Monroe90028
Ida81832
Adair81630
Pocahontas80919
Davis76623
Monona76527
Greene73110
Lucas72221
Osceola68315
Worth6678
Taylor64112
Decatur5719
Fremont5619
Van Buren53718
Ringgold50620
Audubon4759
Wayne47221
Adams3194
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