April 14 (Reuters) - Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, who has enjoyed a surge in opinion polls and a torrent of media coverage, will formally launch a bid on Sunday for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.
The announcement in South Bend comes as little surprise. No potential contender in the burgeoning Democratic field has seen as rapid a rise in the early stages of the campaign as Buttigieg, who went from obscure Midwestern politician to top-tier contender in a matter of weeks.
At 37, Buttigieg will be the youngest entrant in a field that features 77-year-old U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont and, likely soon, 76-year-old former Vice President Joe Biden - a contrast Buttigieg has emphasized in campaign events.
The man known as “Mayor Pete” has styled himself as the voice of the millennial generation, often talking about what the United States might look like decades from now. He is the first openly gay major presidential candidate, which has given him inroads into a Democratic base that increasingly values diversity and progressivism.
As mayor of South Bend since 2012, he has presided over an economic turnaround that has brought new investment into the struggling northwestern Indiana industrial town, an achievement likely to be a central plank of his presidential campaign.
Polls of voters in Iowa and New Hampshire released last week showed Buttigieg in third place in both early-voting states, although still well behind Biden and Sanders. Buttigieg raised $7 million in the first quarter of the year, surpassing more established rivals such as U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.
More than a dozen Democrats have announced a run for the chance to take on President Donald Trump, a Republican, in the November 2020 general election. Democratic voters will begin the process of selecting a nominee in a series of contests beginning early next year.
A former Rhodes Scholar, consultant for the firm McKinsey and Co and U.S. Navy reservist who served in Afghanistan, Buttigieg has the kind of background that could appeal to both moderates and progressives in the party.
But questions will persist about whether the mayor of an Indiana city of 100,000 residents is ready to run a nation of 330 million.
Buttigieg talks about his faith more frequently than many Democrats on the campaign trail. That recently brought him into direct conflict with Vice President Mike Pence, a former governor of Indiana.
At a lesbian, gay and transgender rights group event in Washington last week, Buttigieg made headlines when he argued that being gay was not a choice.
“That’s the thing I wish the Mike Pences of the world would understand: that if you’ve got a problem with who I am, your problem is not with me. Your quarrel, sir, is with my creator.”
Pence answered the criticism in an interview with CNN, saying “I hope Pete will offer more to the American people than attacks on my Christian faith or attacks on the president as he seeks the highest office in the land.”
Reporting by James Oliphant Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Jonathan Oatis