The media has been fawning over South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg for weeks now and it’s really boosted his standing in the national and early voting state polls. But even with all the buzz he’s getting, it’s worth noting that he’s still in third place at best with a significant gap between him and both Biden and Sanders. So what happens if Mayor Pete turns out to be just another flavor of the week and eventually has to drop out? Does he just go back home to South Bend?
That’s the question that has some Republican strategists getting nervous. If Buttigieg winds up dropping out later this year or after the first primaries and caucuses, he could still jump into the race to be Indiana’s governor. While his prospects for such a bid might have been a bit slimmer a couple of months ago, with all the earned media he’s been receiving lately he would march into that race with a significant amount of momentum. (The Hill)
Yet there are persistent worries among GOP Hoosiers that Buttigieg could shift gears — if his presidential hopes fade — and instead try to unseat Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb in 2020, two GOP sources told The Hill.
“There is a growing concern and an increasing amount of anxiety among the Indiana Republican leaders associated with Gov. Holcomb that Buttigieg could make a switch several months down the road and challenge Holcomb for governor instead,” said one of the GOP sources who hails from Indiana and is close to the state party leadership.
“That’s why the Indiana state party is taking shots at Buttigieg,” the source added.
The real question is how much of a threat Buttigieg would be to Eric Holcomb in 2020. It’s true that Holcomb took the Governor’s mansion with a fairly comfortable margin (51-45). Also, the Hoosiers haven’t elected a Democrat as governor in almost twenty years. But Holcomb’s approval numbers still aren’t anything to write home about. He’s sitting slightly below the safety zone with a 49% approval rating. Only 22% disapprove, but a significant 29% either have no opinion or don’t know enough about him to say one way or the other. That could indicate that there’s an opening for a Democrat if they’re popular enough.
Enter Pete Buttigieg. A few months ago his name recognition even in his home state was probably below ten percent. But today, particularly in Indiana, it’s got to be at least in the 80s. He’s also built a significant fundraising operation in a short period of time and proven that he can bring in the dollars. In a gubernatorial bid, he could probably swing some national money his way if the Democrats sense a chance at flipping another governorship.
Keep an eye on both Buttigieg and Holcomb over the coming months. I’m still not convinced that Mayor Pete has the juice to make it all the way to the nomination, but even if he doesn’t we’ll probably not have heard the last of him.