Although he is yet to formally enter the 2020 presidential race, Pete Buttigieg has wowed crowds at town halls, raised more money than better-known rivals and placed near the top of Iowa polls.
It has been a remarkable three months for the 37-year-old mayor of South Bend, Indiana, a rise that might only be matched by that of his husband, Chasten Buttigieg.
The pair have crossed the country together and Chasten’s documentation of life on the campaign trail has made him a breakout star in his own right – and a boost to his husband’s campaign.
The 29-year-old’s funny and candid posts on Twitter and Instagram have won him more than 240,000 followers as he offers up a more carefree side to his husband’s earnest persona. Having taken a sabbatical from teaching to focus on the campaign, he has been a hit offline too, winning rave reviews earlier this month for a speech at a Human Rights Campaign gala.
Pete seems well aware of his husband’s popularity. At a recent rally in New Hampshire, one of the loudest cheers came when he mentioned Chasten. But Chasten’s role is not just that of a supportive husband, blithely tweeting policy proposals and fundraising links. He is popular because he posts the sort of things anyone might post.
Photos of the couple’s dogs, for example, go down particularly well. They have two: Truman, a labrador-beagle mix, and Buddy, a puggle who only has one eye.
Chasten’s excitement at his husband’s success has also found an audience. He eagerly tweets out positive articles and praise but his position outside the campaign also means he can address things his husband, who would be the first openly gay president, might ignore.
After a handful of articles appeared online asking if Pete Buttigieg was good or bad for the gay community – the Outline ran the headline “Why Pete Buttigieg is bad for gays” – Chasten was happy to wade in.
“I definitely thought the ‘he’s not skinny enough’ comments would come first,” he wrote in a post which drew a supportive response from Adam Rippon, the first openly gay American to win a medal at the Winter Olympics.
Pete’s rapid rise from small-city mayor to a serious contender to be the next president probably seems a rapid change for the couple, who had their first date – an evening of drinking beer and eating scotch eggs – in September 2015.
“Once I saw he was down for the Scotch egg, I knew it had a shot,” Pete recalled to the New York Times in a splashy feature about their wedding in June 2018. The ceremony included a reading from the supreme court ruling that legalised same-sex marriage, according to the Times, before the pair were driven away in a “cherry red 1961 Studebaker Lark VIII”.
Chasten’s parents were there but he has talked about the difficulty of coming out to them as an 18-year-old – he ended up moving out of the family home and sleeping in his car and on friends’ couches. He regularly posts motivational messages for people who might find themselves in a similar situation.
“For many of us, coming out was, and is, an extremely painful process,” he wrote earlier this month. “Perhaps, like me, you medicated, prayed and begged. Sharing our stories matter. Let’s bust the stigma together.”
Chasten reflected on his newfound fame in his speech to the Human Rights Campaign, telling the crowd: “I now live in a world where people take photos of me in the deodorant aisle at the grocery store.”
He had a serious message too, mentioning how “the grace of one supreme court vote” enabled him and Pete to marry. He closed his speech by stressing the need for an Equality Act, then added in a plug for his husband.
“We need someone in the White House who will sign the Equality Act into law,” he said. “And luckily, I know a guy.”