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Pete Buttigieg is the youngest candidate in the race. And he sure as hell won’t let you forget it.
During Tuesday night’s Democratic presidential debate in Detroit, the 37-year-old mayor from South Bend, Indiana, casually referenced his age several times as he stood on the stage next to his oldest competitor, Sen. Bernie Sanders. Age has emerged as a go-to strategy for Buttigieg, a moderate Democrat, to standout in a crowded 2020 field that’s being pushed further to the left, thanks to progressive candidates like Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
“Endless war, climate change,” Buttigieg said at one point. “My generation has lived this for as long as we’ve been alive.”
”Americans want comprehensive immigration reform,” he said later on. “And frankly, we’ve been talking about the same framework for my entire adult life.”
“This is the exact conversation we’ve been having since I was in high school,” Buttigieg said about gun reform in yet another reference to his age. “Columbine happened when I was a junior in high school.”
Since jumping in the race in January, Buttigieg has staked his campaign on creating “generational change.” He only beats the constitutional requirement that a candidate be 35 by two years, and, if he wins, he’ll be the youngest person ever elected to the presidency.
But when debate moderator Don Lemon asked whether age should be a factor at the primaries next year, Buttigieg conceded that it shouldn’t.
“I don’t care how old you are. I care about your vision. But I do think it matters that we have a new generation of leaders stepping up around the world,” he said in reference to New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who was 37 when she took office in October of 2017.
Buttigieg’s focus on his own youth was a far cry from the last month’s debate, when he and former candidate Eric Swalwell took repeated swipes at Biden, Sanders, and Hickenlooper over their perceived disconnect with younger voters.
“I’m running because the decisions we make in the next three or four years are going to decide how the next 30 or 40 go,” Buttigieg said during his final remarks at last month’s debate. “And when I get to the current age of the current president in the year 2055, I want to be able to look back on these years, and say my generation delivered.”
Buttigieg once again mentioned his age in his closing statement Tuesday night.
“By 2030 we will have passed the point of no return on climate,” Buttigieg said. “There will be 130 million more guns on our streets. I will be in my 40s then. If you have kids, think about how old they will be then.”
Despite his early start and ability to stir financial support from small donors, Buttigieg has had trouble maintaining his momentum in recent months. The fatal police-involved shooting of a black man in South Bend in June has presented an obstacle for the candidate who was already struggling to entice black voters in battleground states.
Since the shooting, he’s struggled to break into the top three candidates, a position he once secured earlier in the primary. This month, he attended EssenceFest in New Orleans hoping to rectify that.
Cover image: South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg listens as Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks during the first of two Democratic presidential primary debates hosted by CNN Tuesday, July 30, 2019, in the Fox Theatre in Detroit. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)