Inside a cold wet Studebaker building in South Bend that is representative of the past, the city's mayor, Pete Buttigieg, made predictions about the future. He officially announced that he is running for President of the United States.
"I recognize the audacity of doing this as a Midwestern millennial mayor. More than a little bold, at age 37, to seek the highest office in the land," he said to cheers of "Pete, Pete, Pete" from an audience assembled in a former Studebaker auto plant.
The South Bend mayor, a Rhodes Scholar and Afghanistan War veteran who has been exploring a White House run since January, has now joined a field of a dozen-plus rivals vying to take on President Donald Trump.
"The forces of change in our country today are tectonic," he said. "Forces that help to explain what made this current presidency even possible. That's why, this time, it's not just about winning an election — it's about winning an era."
Buttigieg will return this week to Iowa and New Hampshire, which hold the nation's first nominating contests, to campaign as a full-fledged candidate now being taken more seriously.
Over the past few months, Buttigieg has appeared frequently on national TV news and talk shows and developed a strong social media following with his message that the country needs "a new generation of leadership."
Buttigieg's poll numbers have climbed. Some polls put him behind only Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who sought the party's nomination in 2016, and former Vice President Joe Biden, who has not yet said he's running.
Buttigieg's campaign has raised more than $7 million in the first three months of this year. Sanders is leading with $18 million raised in tbe first quarter, but Buttigieg raised more than Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Cory Booker of New Jersey. By 7:15pm Sunday, Buttigieg's campaign reported raising $1 million just since the candidacy was announced in the afternoon.
Buttigieg would be the first openly gay nominee of a major presidential party; he married his husband, Chasten, last year. He would be the first mayor to go directly to the White House. And he would be the youngest person to become president, turning 39 the day before the next inauguration, on Jan. 20, 2021. Theodore Roosevelt was 42 when he took office, while John F. Kennedy was 43 and Bill Clinton was 46.
The campaign kickoff speech echoed themes that have resonated with voters during Buttigieg's exploratory phase.
He talks often about how political decisions shape people's lives, including his own — from serving as a lieutenant in the Navy Reserve in 2014, to being able to marry his husband and to not having to worry about how to pay for his father's hospital bills after his father's death this year.
Buttigieg also says the best way for Democrats to defeat Trump may be to nominate a mayor experienced in helping to revive a Midwestern city once described as "dying," rather than a politician who has spent years "marinating" in Washington.
He has criticized Trump's campaign slogan, "Make America Great Again," saying the way to move the country forward is not to look backward or cling to an old way of life.
"There's a myth being sold to industrial and rural communities: the myth that we can stop the clock and turn it back," he said. "It comes from people who think the only way to reach communities like ours is through resentment and nostalgia, selling an impossible promise of returning to a bygone era that was never as great as advertised to begin with."
More than 4,500 people assembled inside the Studebaker building, where a steady stream of raindrops fell on speakers on the stage through the leaky roof. An overflow crowd estimated at 1,500 by the South Bend Fire Marshal stood outside.
"I like that he's young. He's so relatable. He doesn't seem like a politician to me," said Tom Lacy, a 62-year-old retiree who came from Peoria, Illinois, for the event with his wife, Candy, on their 35th wedding anniversary. "The contrast between him and our current president is unbelievable."
Nausher Ahmad Sial, a 68-year-old developer from South Bend, said the 2020 election is about the future of the country and "we need to try new blood."
Sial, who came to the U.S. from Pakistan 35 years ago, said he has worked with Buttigieg on development projects in the city and described the mayor as a "very honest, very fair guy."
The first people in line Sunday showed up around 7 in the morning and were from Virginia. Supporters came from as far away as London and Canada.
Prior to addressing the crowd inside, Buttigieg went out in the rain with his husband, Chasten, and spoke to those disappointed about being unable to get inside for the official announcement.
Buttigieg told those assembled outdoors who huddled under umbrellas and ponchos, "I am impressed by all those inside, but I am moved by those of you outside."