Last year I expressed some sympathetic fear that the career of freshly minted Transportation secretary Pete Buttigieg might be ruined by premature speculation that he was angling to supplant Joe Biden as the Democratic presidential candidate in 2024, or squeeze Kamala Harris out of her position as heir apparent (in either 2024 or 2028, depending on what Biden does). Give the man a break, I thought. He’s only 39 years old.
Well, now he’s 40, and Buttigieg shows every indication that he’s enjoying his work in Washington as “the public face of a trillion-dollar infrastructure package that might be the president’s defining domestic-legacy item,” as my colleague Ross Barkan put it. But now he’s made a literal move that could be interpreted as a shrewd step toward a revived career in electoral politics down the road, as Politico reported:
The Transportation secretary and former South Bend mayor has changed his residency from Indiana to the Wolverine State, where he plans to vote this fall, a spokesperson confirmed. Buttigieg’s move was for family reasons, specifically, his husband’s family, a Department of Transportation spokesperson said. “Moving to Chasten’s hometown of Traverse City allowed them to be closer to his parents, which became especially important to them after they adopted their twins, often relying on Chasten’s parents for help with child care,” the person said.
Sounds very relatable.
Whatever the personal benefits and the spousal connection, moving to Michigan also happens to place Buttigieg in a red-hot battleground state whose current Democratic governor and two U.S. senators may not stay in their current jobs forever (four-term Senator Debbie Stabenow’s current term ends in 2024, when she will be 74 years old). In deep-red Indiana, there was no obvious avenue for higher office for a guy like Buttigieg, which is probably a major reason he ran for president in 2020 instead of climbing a ladder that really wasn’t there.
Now ex-Mayor Pete can make his tenure in South Bend a résumé item rather than an endlessly examined and criticized job at which anything other than massive overperformance seemed damning. And in Michigan, if he’s smart about it, he may get a second chance at establishing a strong relationship with Black voters, which he’ll need if he wants to win a Democratic presidential nomination, not just do well for the mayor of a small midwestern city. And if he succeeds in the gritty politics of his new adopted state, he probably will never be stereotyped as a “wine-track candidate” again.
In any event, Buttigieg still has plenty of time to make this move just an initial move on the political chessboard. He’ll be almost as old as Joe Biden is today in 2060. Maybe he can learn a few more languages before getting back on the presidential campaign trail again.