WASHINGTON — When Rep. Don Beyer was considering which Democratic presidential candidate to back, he thought about his three daughters, who “cried for three days after Donald Trump’s election,” he said.
“Trying to figure out which of the 20 candidates has the best chance of beating Donald Trump has been a really important intellectual and moral exercise,” the northern Virginia Democrat told the Virginia Mercury Thursday.
He’s settled on South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
Beyer officially backed Buttigieg on Wednesday, giving the Indiana mayor his first congressional endorsement. It comes as many lawmakers are reluctant to throw their weight behind a particular candidate, given the historically large field.
Beyer said he was “similarly inspired” by then-candidate Barack Obama and Buttigieg.
“With him, I feel the promise of a new generation, and I see a way out of the darkness,” Beyer said in a statement announcing his support.
“In making this choice, I think of the qualities missing from the current occupant of the Oval Office. They are qualities that Pete Buttigieg exudes: decency, a grounding in history, optimism, a sophisticated grasp of the world and of the dangers of bigotry and a generosity of spirit. The Democratic field is full of people with these traits, but Pete possesses them to an uncommon degree, and, just as importantly, has a gift for communicating them.”
Beyer told the Mercury that he had been “almost derisive” when Buttigieg ran to be chairman of the Democratic National Committee in 2017.
“Come on, you’re the mayor of South Bend,” he said. But he’s since heard interviews with Buttigieg as he’s gained traction and thought, “Oh my God, this guy is so articulate. … He’s calm, he’s thoughtful, he doesn’t scare people.”
Beyer and Buttigieg haven’t met in person, but Beyer’s chief of staff called Buttigieg’s campaign manager this week to tell them about the endorsement. Then Beyer’s phone rang, and when it had a South Bend number, he figured he should answer. “He just called to say hi and to thank me for being interested,” Beyer said.
The Virginia congressman doesn’t think the “quote, unquote downside politically” to Buttigieg’s campaign — the fact that he’s gay — will hurt his chances. “I really believe that the people who are going to reject him because he’s gay are not the people who are going to be in the Democratic universe to begin with,” he said.
He’s gotten positive feedback from Virginians since the announcement, Beyer said. “My email inbox has been packed” and he’s gotten heaps of texts saying, “yay” and “thank you,” including messages from Republicans who aren’t fans of Trump.
With many Democratic primary voters coming from northern Virginia, Beyer said he hopes his early endorsement might be able to “help some people clarify” who they support.
“I would love to turn Virginia into a Buttigieg state,” Beyer said. “He seems like a really remarkable human being.”
As for his daughters, Beyer said, “all three are very excited.”
Since he rose from relative obscurity, Buttigieg’s record as South Bend’s mayor has drawn scrutiny from Democrats as well as Republicans.