Pete Buttigieg lost his primary bid on Sunday night when he dropped out of the Democratic presidential race, yet there’s little question that the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., won his personal campaign to become a national political figure.
Mr. Buttigieg had tried before to become a power broker in national politics. His early efforts failed: In his race to become the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Mr. Buttigieg stepped aside before the vote was tallied to avoid a potentially low vote total.
Three years later, he is leaving the primary race on very different footing, as one of the most prominent figures in the Democratic Party, and as a politician with a devoted following and a defined brand who even taught much of the country how to say his difficult-to-pronounce surname. (It’s Boot-EDGE-EDGE, in case you missed all of the campaign signs.)
Mr. Buttigieg’s accomplishments go beyond his strong finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire, the first two voting states. His bid gave Mr. Buttigieg a place in the history books as the country’s first gay major presidential candidate.
“Sometimes the longest way around really is the shortest way home,” he joked after he took the stage for his exit speech in South Bend on Sunday evening. “We were never supposed to get anywhere at all.”
But few expect Mr. Buttigieg to remain at home for long. Here’s some ideas for what he could consider next:
A flight from South Bend?
His mayoral term ended in January, and those close to Mr. Buttigieg see no obvious political next step in Indiana for the former mayor of a relatively Democratic enclave in a Republican state. In 2018, Joe Donnelly, then a Democratic senator from Indiana, lost his re-election fight by nearly six points — a harbinger of how hard it can be even for a popular figure like Mr. Buttigieg to win statewide.
It was a political issue faced by another Democratic presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, who spent most of her professional career in Arkansas before becoming the nation’s first lady. She moved to New York, a state with easy residency laws and with many more Democratic voters, to mount her successful Senate bid.
A place on the ticket?
Mr. Buttigieg’s departure from the race leaves behind a field dominated by septuagenarians. At 77, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. is now the youngest male candidate in the field. Having Mr. Buttigieg as a fresh face on a ticket could help allay the fears of voters who are worried about electing an older president.
If a Democrat wins, Mr. Buttigieg would almost certainly be on the list for a cabinet post, perhaps for a job drawing on his military service, like defense secretary, or on his language fluency, like ambassador to the United Nations.
For his part, Mr. Buttigieg promised to do everything in his power “to ensure we have a new Democratic president come January” — a vow that would certainly be fulfilled by a spot on the Democratic ticket. “There is simply too much at stake to retreat to the sidelines at a time like this,” he said.
After John Edwards ended his 2004 presidential campaign, he took over as director of the Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill — a perch that allowed him to tour major universities and promote his agenda. By February 2005, Mr. Edwards, a former North Carolina senator, was back in New Hampshire to headline a state party fund-raiser.
Mr. Buttigieg could find a similar kind of job — a position at a think tank or in academia that would allow him to further his agenda, to address possible Democratic voters and to keep making trips to early voting states. One idea suggested by some supporters would be a post that would let him engage more directly with voters of color, a core part of the Democratic Party base that he failed to win over in large numbers.
Another presidential bid?
During his remarks on Sunday night, supporters chanted “2024, 2024,” prompting a tight smile from Mr. Buttigieg. If Mr. Trump wins re-election, Mr. Buttigieg will certainly be on the list for those considered likely prospects for another run for the Democratic nomination. With a deep donor network and a field operation in early voting states, Mr. Buttigieg could enter the field with some strength, assuming he doesn’t stumble in the next four years or so.