Stephen Gaskill, who serves as President of the Florida LGBTQ+ Democratic Caucus, says he is backing former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary.
“He’s young, thoughtful and progressive,” Gaskill said in a talk with Florida Politics about his decision to endorse Buttigieg. “I think he’s got plans and policies that will help heal the divide of our country and move us forward.”
Gaskill said he’s endorsing Buttigieg in his personal capacity and that the LGBTQ+ Democratic Caucus isn’t yet taking a position on the race. But Gaskill argued that seeing an openly gay man compete for a major party’s presidential nomination is a big moment.
“Having an openly gay man who is a major contender for the presidency of the United States, at this time especially in our history, is key for not only the LGBTQ community, but I think for all communities that are still struggling with civil rights issues,” Gaskill said.
“He’s a symbol of how far we have come and a reminder of how far we still have to go.”
The 37-year-old Buttigieg has done more than just compete. Of the Democratic candidates who released their most recent quarterly fundraising totals, Buttigieg placed second with a haul of $24.7 million.
That total covers money raised from October through December. Buttigieg trailed only U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont in that category.
And polling has shown Buttigieg is near the top of the field in both Iowa and New Hampshire, the first two states where Democratic voters will have their say on the party’s 2020 nominee.
Gaskill credits Buttigieg’s appeal with his thoughtfulness on the campaign trail, and feels he’s the best candidate to take on President Donald Trump in November.
“He’s someone who can look down the road beyond any action that we’re taking today to see how it’s going to play out years from now,” Gaskill argued.
“That’s what we’re missing in the current administration, where everything is just for short-term political gain. Pete Buttigieg is someone who’s really looking long-term.”
Should Buttigieg have success early, it remains to be seen whether his campaign will have legs in Florida. The most recent polls of the Sunshine State —albeit a few months old — show Buttigieg in a distant fourth place.
Gaskill thinks that will change by the time Floridians cast their ballots on March 17.
“I think once we get to the Florida primary, more Floridians will know who Pete is and they’ll be heading to his campaign.”
Some analysts have also voiced skepticism about Buttigieg’s youth. But Gaskill says that can also be a strength going forward.
“He understands issues and problems in a way that other candidates might not,” Gaskill said.
“I think that this is an instance where his relative youth is definitely an advantage. He’s much closer to the problems of most Americans. As he said on the debate stage, he’s the only candidate in the race who’s not a millionaire.”
While the Florida LGBTQ+ Democratic Caucus isn’t backing a candidate in the Democratic primary, that organization does plan to hold a straw poll of the field at its winter meeting in Orlando in March.
And Gaskill says, preferences notwithstanding, he believes the party will coalesce in an effort to defeat Trump once the general election beings.
“I know that I, as well as most Democrats, are going to support whoever we nominate,” Gaskill says.
“I just feel that Pete Buttigieg brings a thoughtfulness at the policy level and an ability to bring people together. And that’s what we really need right now.”