What's behind the surging interest in Pete Buttigieg

Former President Barack Obama’s adviser David Axelrod likes to say that voters are often looking for someone who is the opposite of the incumbent. In trying to make sense of the 2016 election, Axelrod wrote in The New York Times that Trump fulfilled the theory of politics he believed in back in 2008: “Open-seat presidential elections are shaped by perceptions of the style and personality of the outgoing incumbent. Voters rarely seek the replica of what they have. They almost always seek the remedy, the candidate who has the personal qualities the public finds lacking the departing executive.” Although this is not an open-seat election, Buttigieg (among other Democrats) does fulfill this model.

The mayor’s supporters can look to the fact that there have been a number of instances in recent history in which the candidate with the least name recognition and experience has won the nomination — and the presidency. Certainly, Democrats can think back to Jimmy Carter in 1976, a nationally unknown governor from Georgia who competed against a field of Democrats with immense experience. “Jimmy Who Is Running for What!?” read the headline of the Atlanta Constitution during Carter’s candidacy…

Obama had a similar experience in 2008. The senator, without a lengthy record in elected office, took on a political giant, Hillary Clinton. Added to this was the open question of whether the country would vote for an African-American president, which was not clear given our country’s long history with racism. In the end, voters gravitated toward Obama, eager for a figure who they could believe in — one who promised to move the nation beyond the broken, polarized, divisive and dysfunctional world they read about in the news every day. The clarity he showed in his opposition to the Iraq War in 2002 offered a stark contrast to Clinton’s middle-of-the-road stand.