This Saturday, Beto O’Rourke held his “official launch” event; a raucous outdoor rally in his hometown of El Paso, Texas, followed by even bigger crowds in Houston and Austin. It was, in all respects, a success. Thousands cheered on as O’Rourke delivered strong speeches, without notes, that picked up plenty of news coverage.

And yet, it hardly seemed buzzworthy, considering the intense excitement and enthusiasm that has surrounded O’Rourke’s rapid rise from obscurity to strong Democratic Presidential contender. Yes the media picked it up, but not in any sustained fashion. Left-wing web sites and social media accounts seemed to take notice, but then move along.

Move along, in many cases, to Pete Buttigieg—the new shiny object distracting attention from the previous shiny object in what is quickly turning into the ADHD primary.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing.

This is not the same as recent Republican Presidential nominating cycles, when relatively unknown candidates received surges of attention, often with corresponding wild polling swings. But those have mostly been for those hyped by and pandering to conservative media, but seen by the GOP establishment as clowns, kooks, and con men: Fred Thompson, Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann, Sarah Palin, Ron Paul, and ultimately Donald Trump.

Love or hate these lime-light-swapping Democrats, they don’t come across to anyone as jokes.

Buttigieg, a 37-year-old, gay, military veteran who served eight years as mayor of South Bend, Indiana—and was a serious candidate for chairman of the Democratic National Committee in 2017—has brought a genuinely interesting and valuable perspective and energy to the large and still-growing field of candidates for the 2020 Democratic Presidential nomination. So too has O’Rourke, the frenetic former congressman who nearly defeated Texas Senator Ted Cruz last year.

So would Stacey Abrams of Georgia, who figures to immediately draw the spotlight from Buttigieg if she decides to enter the field.

Don’t expect the head-swiveling pace to slow down. Not only are there still more potential candidates waiting in the wings—Joe Biden, Terry McAuliffe, Seth Moulton, Eric Swalwell, and Tim Ryan—but also a strong likelihood that candidates already in the race, such as Julián Castro, Cory Booker, and Kirsten Gillibrand, will at some point each get their own turn as the hot, surging, viral sensation.

Eventually, the party’s voters might circle right back to someone long familiar to them—so don’t count out Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, or Joe Biden standing strong when the first real votes start coming in, early next year.

In the meantime, enjoy what each of the flavor-of-the-week candidates brings to the palette.

Proselytizing Pete

Buttigieg has grabbed attention—and a self-reported $7 million fundraising haul—for many reasons. He is the youngest candidate in the field so far. He is the first major gay candidate for President. He has executive experience, and is removed from the taint of Washington. Most importantly, he has a confidently persuasive manner, seen recently by national audiences on CNN and MSNBC.

There’s something else, however, that seems to set him apart: his eager defense of religious-based liberalism.
Buttigieg, an Episcopalian who credits his Catholic high school for his theological awakening (and who got elected twice in a city dominated by the University of Notre Dame), is hardly the only Democrat who professes the importance of his faith.

But his rhetoric has received special attention, in the form of viral video clips and major media profiles. He speaks in a scholarly but sincere way about his interpretation of gospel as compelling faith through works, and teaching inclusion over exclusion in the public sphere.

That message might seem especially powerful coming from a married homosexual—and who has gone toe-to-toe with the evangelical conservatism of former Indiana Governor, and current Vice President, Mike Pence.

Despite the much-discussed secularism of the left, reclaiming religion from conservatism has a strong appeal among Democrats. For one thing, being less religious than Republicans still leaves room for a lot of belief and practice among Democrats, as Pew studies have shown.

Importantly, as Pew has put it, “while white Democrats are less likely to be religious than Republicans, nonwhite Democrats… more closely resemble Republicans overall on a host of religious measures.
In addition, Trump’s Presidency appears to have triggered a backlash against what some see as a co-opting of their religion in service of acts they find morally repugnant.

Catholic voters, for example, voted narrowly in favor of Democrats in the 2018 elections, after voting Republican by ten percentage points in each of the last two midterm elections, and for Trump in 2016. Jewish voters, too, voted Democrat at significantly higher rates in 2018 than in 2014 or 2010.

For some Democratic voters, a Presidential candidate making a theological argument for liberal policy feels as affirming as Castro might for Hispanic Democrats.

One (or more) for everybody

That type of representation, of a voter’s beliefs, background, race, ethnicity, gender, geography, or experience, matters in politics. Especially now, and especially among Democrats, who need to energize a wide range of supporters in order to win a national election.

It’s easy to underestimate that value. Gradual improvements in women’s equality masked a frustration that exploded in the 2018 midterm elections. Barack Obama’s Presidency only heightened the significance of Abrams becoming, just last year, the first black woman nominated for governor by any major political party, ever, in any state, in all of United States history. The growing commonplace of same-sex marriage has rendered Buttigieg’s orientation an afterthought for most savvy media observers, but there are growing public testimonies to its meaning among the LGBTQ community.

No one candidate can ever contain the multitudes of the Democratic Party coalition. The eventual nominee might be an inspiration to some, but not all.

That could be the benefit of the rapidly-rotating attention among 15 or more candidates in this ADHD primary.
The party’s narrow candidate field in 2016 provided some drama, but relatively little representational inspiration. Hillary Clinton’s deliberation over a running-mate boiled down, in part, to which piece of the Democratic coalition she most needed to make that up to. From her short list, Clinton chose to target Catholics (Tim Kaine) over Hispanics (Castro), liberals (Elizabeth Warren), or white Westerners (John Hickenlooper).

Perhaps a national campaign showcasing a wide range of serious, viable, legitimate candidates will serve to enthuse and unite the coalition, regardless of the ultimate winner of the nomination.