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South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg weighs bid for DNC chair

Sound Bend Indiana Mayor Peter Buttigieg talks about Republican Vice-presidential candidate Mike Pence in front of potential voters at a Hillary Clinton debate watching party for the LGBT community in Chicago, Illinois on September 26, 2016. Buttigieg is stumping for Clinton as the first openly gay executive in the state of Indiana.

DEREK HENKLE/AFP/Getty Images

Pete Buttigieg, mayor of the Rust Belt city of South Bend, Indiana, is considering a bid to lead the Democratic National Committee (DNC).

“I’m looking at where I fit into the conversation,” Buttigieg told Politico in an interview published late Thursday. “There can be a lot of ways to do that. What I care about though is our party moves forward in a way that’s going to work, that makes sense on the ground in the world I live in and is not going to devolve into a factional struggle.”

According to Politico, the South Bend mayor declined to definitively say whether he plans to become an official candidate in the race for DNC chair. He did, however, say that he would step down from his role as mayor if he won the race to lead the national party. 

If Buttigieg runs, he would face a potentially crowded field. Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota remains a leading contender for the position, as well as Jaime Harrison, chair of the South Carolina Democratic Party, and New Hampshire’s Democratic Party chair, Ray Buckley. Labor Secretary Tom Perez is also gunning for the top DNC slot.

Howard Dean, who has already served once in the position, dropped his bid earlier this month, announcing in Denver that “other priorities” prevented him from seeking a second stint as chairman.  

Compared to some of his potential competition, Buttigieg may lack some of the national name recognition needed for the party’s chairmanship. But the Sound Bend mayor has also drawn plaudits for his adept handling of local Democratic coalitions and for his experience revitalizing a Rust Belt town.

Buttigieg, 34, has been the chief executive of the fourth most populous city in Indiana since 2012. Unlike the majority of the red state, South Bend -- which is located in St. Joseph County and neighbors the University of Notre Dame campus -- went blue. (One of the only four counties in Indiana to vote for Clinton, St. Joseph’s voters eked out a narrow victory for Clinton of fewer than 250 votes, according to CBS News’ election map.)

Buttigieg, with his Harvard pedigree and a master’s from Oxford, has been dubbed by one New York Times columnist a “perfect Democratic candidate.”

But he’s equally primed to appeal to more conservative white, working-class voters -- a demographic the Democratic party struggled to connect with during the 2016 campaign season. Since he first took office, the popular mayor has overseen the innovative urban renewal of South Bend, once a manufacturing hub and the former headquarters of automakers Studebaker. He is currently a lieutenant in the Navy Reserve, and was deployed in 2014 for seven months in Afghanistan.

Buttigieg is also gay. He came out in a local newspaper op-ed in 2015, in the midst of of his re-election campaign for mayor, and in November, he won 80 percent of the vote. He is the first openly gay executive in Indiana.

In 2014, the Washington Post named him “the most interesting mayor you’ve never heard of.”