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 5:21 PM
Updated: Dec 16, 2020 5:21 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.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 657037

Reported Deaths: 12450
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion901321624
Lake48105871
Allen35552632
Hamilton31839393
St. Joseph29538510
Elkhart25261412
Vanderburgh21115377
Tippecanoe19765197
Johnson16242352
Porter15838267
Hendricks15723296
Clark11843179
Madison11672314
Vigo11503228
Monroe10248158
Delaware9788178
LaPorte9720194
Howard9017194
Kosciusko8514107
Bartholomew7373147
Warrick7369146
Hancock7362128
Floyd7139164
Wayne6586188
Grant6395157
Morgan6040124
Boone603388
Dubois5868111
Dearborn540266
Henry539492
Marshall5390104
Cass537199
Noble506775
Jackson462063
Shelby458490
Lawrence4154111
Gibson399681
Harrison395160
Clinton392353
DeKalb382078
Montgomery381583
Knox354484
Miami354063
Whitley346235
Huntington338176
Steuben335955
Wabash328775
Putnam325959
Ripley325161
Adams320249
Jasper312943
White295351
Jefferson292770
Daviess284296
Fayette270255
Decatur269388
Greene259978
Posey259731
Wells255374
Scott248446
LaGrange240170
Clay238944
Randolph225076
Spencer215830
Jennings213544
Washington207727
Sullivan202038
Fountain200341
Starke185950
Owen181652
Jay177328
Fulton176437
Carroll175618
Perry172435
Orange170450
Rush163922
Franklin158335
Vermillion158040
Tipton145441
Parke137915
Pike127232
Blackford120027
Pulaski105643
Newton96431
Brown94639
Benton91113
Crawford90113
Martin80114
Switzerland7507
Warren74612
Union66810
Ohio52711
Unassigned0425

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 958153

Reported Deaths: 16968
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1109381191
Cuyahoga944201702
Hamilton72486944
Montgomery46927869
Summit39637941
Butler35004461
Lucas34724755
Stark29011826
Warren22137269
Lorain21738385
Mahoning19251533
Lake18178300
Clermont18172206
Delaware16261128
Licking14820194
Fairfield14378157
Trumbull14136454
Greene13470209
Medina13188218
Clark12121332
Wood11384193
Portage10829152
Allen10710231
Richland10165198
Miami9937179
Columbiana8049179
Muskingum8036123
Tuscarawas7974233
Pickaway795898
Marion7936134
Wayne7791216
Erie6783181
Ross6065135
Geauga5978129
Hancock5941110
Scioto5867105
Ashtabula5811140
Lawrence519073
Union505052
Darke5006122
Belmont484787
Sandusky472393
Jefferson4709107
Huron4701116
Seneca4620103
Athens456231
Mercer4559101
Auglaize453896
Washington451286
Shelby438867
Knox397884
Putnam3964101
Madison388747
Ashland374594
Fulton374364
Defiance3670101
Brown366742
Crawford354296
Preble350570
Logan349757
Clinton336162
Highland323652
Ottawa318467
Williams299578
Jackson287056
Guernsey283234
Champaign282545
Fayette265642
Perry265239
Morrow256624
Henry242665
Hardin241856
Holmes2416104
Coshocton230246
Van Wert227749
Gallia219446
Adams213732
Pike212025
Wyandot207652
Hocking192148
Carroll178828
Paulding158423
Meigs133536
Noble127842
Monroe114936
Harrison99132
Morgan98834
Vinton76215
Unassigned00
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