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: 727764

Reported Deaths: 13397
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion995211738
Lake53461965
Allen40457675
St. Joseph35506550
Hamilton35489408
Elkhart28433441
Tippecanoe22359218
Vanderburgh22284396
Porter18668307
Johnson17905377
Hendricks17180315
Clark12930191
Madison12592339
Vigo12431246
Monroe11858170
LaPorte11821210
Delaware10648185
Howard9865216
Kosciusko9378117
Hancock8251140
Bartholomew8052155
Warrick7771155
Floyd7649177
Grant7027174
Wayne7026199
Boone6679101
Morgan6555139
Dubois6150117
Marshall6005111
Dearborn579277
Cass5788105
Henry5688103
Noble558883
Jackson500872
Shelby490296
Lawrence4505120
Harrison434772
Gibson434692
Clinton427053
DeKalb426484
Montgomery423588
Whitley394739
Huntington389080
Steuben383857
Miami380666
Knox371890
Jasper363847
Putnam358860
Wabash353379
Adams340654
Ripley339170
Jefferson328881
White313254
Daviess295899
Wells291081
Decatur284292
Fayette279262
Greene277385
Posey271033
Scott265453
LaGrange265370
Clay259146
Washington240032
Randolph239781
Spencer232031
Jennings229549
Starke215453
Fountain212046
Sullivan211142
Owen198156
Fulton194740
Jay192530
Carroll188320
Orange182654
Perry182637
Rush172925
Vermillion168543
Franklin167735
Tipton162445
Parke145916
Blackford134632
Pike133234
Pulaski116445
Newton107234
Brown101641
Crawford99314
Benton98414
Martin88315
Warren81715
Switzerland7848
Union70810
Ohio56411
Unassigned0414

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1081518

Reported Deaths: 19428
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1256551400
Cuyahoga1117782115
Hamilton798901205
Montgomery513291014
Summit47080945
Lucas42049788
Butler38301584
Stark32242906
Lorain24958481
Warren24262298
Mahoning21511588
Lake20618369
Clermont19747238
Delaware18503133
Licking16410212
Fairfield16160199
Trumbull16019468
Medina15247264
Greene15043244
Clark13970299
Wood13065189
Portage12825203
Allen11626232
Richland11323199
Miami10661217
Muskingum8799133
Wayne8784211
Columbiana8766229
Pickaway8551121
Marion8514135
Tuscarawas8470244
Erie7871154
Hancock6906127
Ross6842155
Ashtabula6792170
Geauga6677148
Scioto6405101
Belmont5873167
Union570348
Lawrence5546102
Jefferson5521151
Huron5427119
Darke5347123
Sandusky5337120
Seneca5275121
Athens518858
Washington5153109
Auglaize489584
Mercer480385
Shelby468893
Knox4483110
Madison435561
Putnam4278100
Fulton421669
Ashland421489
Defiance419297
Crawford3970107
Brown393857
Logan381576
Preble379398
Clinton371263
Ottawa366679
Highland354662
Williams338575
Champaign331458
Guernsey315653
Jackson312151
Perry294850
Morrow284639
Fayette281550
Hardin270664
Henry268466
Coshocton264557
Holmes2593101
Van Wert243363
Adams237752
Pike237534
Gallia235349
Wyandot230855
Hocking215262
Carroll191247
Paulding172540
Meigs144740
Noble133337
Monroe132042
Morgan108323
Harrison107637
Vinton82815
Unassigned02
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A cold start Saturday with widespread frost expected. We'll see plenty of sunshine for most of the day. Then, clouds build in during the late afternoon and evening.
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