Long-shot campaigns have never fazed Malcolm Lazin. He was a 33-year-old Republican when he ran for district attorney of heavily Democratic Philadelphia. His wife managed his campaign, a losing effort.
Now Lazin is a part-time Santa Fe resident, 76 years old, and executive director of an international advocacy organization for people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.
He bolted the Republican Party after Donald Trump was elected president. Defeating Trump is one of Lazin’s goals for 2020. And Lazin believes he has the ideal contender.
He is supporting Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind. Lazin calls Buttigieg, 37, a candidate who could lead a political breakthrough, just as John F. Kennedy did in 1960.
“The conventional thinking was that Kennedy couldn’t win because the country had never had a Catholic as president,” Lazin said. “He proved that thinking to be wrong.”
Buttigieg hears plenty of the same pessimism because he is gay.
Lazin tunes out naysayers. He organized a private fundraiser for Buttigieg in Santa Fe and is planning another in Sarasota, Fla., Lazin’s winter home.
Lazin says he’s convinced Buttigieg has the talent to surprise much of the country by winning the Democratic nomination and ousting Trump.
Buttigieg’s experience in government is thin. He was mayor for eight years of a city that is not much larger than Santa Fe.
But his résumé is gold-plated. Buttigieg is a Rhodes scholar who served six years in the Navy Reserve and a six-month deployment in Afghanistan.
He is polling well in Iowa and New Hampshire, states that have a presidential caucus or primary in early February.
“He certainly will come out of the chute strong,” Lazin said.
The test for Buttigieg will be whether he can sustain his momentum as primaries shift to the Deep South.
Few had heard of Buttigieg last January when he announced he was considering a campaign for president. Already he’s outlasted candidates who began the race with a higher profile. Sen. Kamala Harris of California and former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke quit before the new year, unable to connect with voters or raise money.
Still, it’s difficult to imagine Buttigieg winning the nomination. He would be an underdog to carry his home state of Indiana against Trump.
Then there’s the question of whether the former mayor of South Bend, population of 101,000, could catch fire with voters in the swing states of Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Virginia and Florida. Trump took five of those seven states in 2016, his losses coming in Virginia and Minnesota.
Lousy odds have never mattered to Lazin. Democrats had a 7-2 registration advantage when he ran for district attorney against Democrat Ed Rendell. Rendell went on to become mayor of Philadelphia and a two-term governor of Pennsylvania.
Lazin, young and idealistic, had headed the Pennsylvania Crime Commission in a state thick with illicit deal-making. He campaigned as a reformer, expecting his opponent to be the sitting district attorney of Philadelphia, Democrat F. Emmett Fitzpatrick.
Fitzpatrick’s office faced complaints of corruption. A recent movie, The Irishman, even depicts Fitzpatrick attending a party for labor leader Jimmy Hoffa that teemed with gangsters.
But Rendell upset Fitzpatrick in the primary. This left Lazin without a controversial foe to target in the general election.
After his defeat, Lazin became a riverfront developer. He also founded PrideFest Philadelphia, a celebration of the city’s gay and lesbian residents.
Lazin last year attended a fundraiser in Philadelphia for Buttigieg. Lazin met Buttigieg’s husband, Chasten, and mentioned that he lived in Santa Fe.
“Chasten’s eyes just lit up. New Mexico is very special to Pete,” Lazin said. “His mother grew up in part in Santa Fe, and his parents taught at New Mexico State University.”
Lazin held a fundraiser for Buttigieg in Santa Fe, and the candidate impressed him with his range of knowledge.
“He’s young but wise, as you might expect of the only child of two professors. He’s also even-keeled and doesn’t make mistakes” while campaigning, Lazin said.
Of course, Buttigieg has yet to face the kind of scrutiny a presidential front-runner receives. Lazin says Buttigieg can handle the pressure if he makes it deep into the primaries.
Democrats have another worry. The party splintered in 2016 after Hillary Clinton received the nomination over Bernie Sanders. Will they close ranks this time?
Lazin predicts unity. Having quit the Republican Party because of a president he cannot abide, he has a clear outlook for 2020.
If it can’t be Buttigieg, let it be anyone but Trump.
Ringside Seat is an opinion column about people, politics and news. Contact Milan Simonich at email@example.com or 505-986-3080.