RICHMOND, Va. - Presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg will speak at a fundraiser for the Democratic Party of Virginia in June, the party announced Monday, one day after the 37-year-old mayor of South Bend, Indiana, formally announced his White House bid.
"Mayor Pete" is the first 2020 candidate confirmed for the event but likely not the last. The Blue Commonwealth Gala, an annual fundraiser for Democrats in a critical swing state, drew Democratic rivals Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in 2008.
"We're in discussion with others," Democratic Party Chairwoman Susan Swecker said in an interview. "Presidential candidates would ignore Virginia at their peril. Things are getting interesting."
She noted that another contender, former Texas congressman Beto O'Rourke, is making a campaign swing through Virginia Tuesday and Wednesday.
Virginia had been a reliably red presidential state for decades until Obama snapped that streak in 2008. Republicans have not won a statewide race - for president or anything else - since 2009.
The fundraiser, which is set to take place June 15 at Richmond's historic Main Street Station, will raise money for Virginia legislative races.
This is a pivotal year for control of the state legislature, where Republicans hold just a two-seat majority in each chamber. All 100 seats in the House of Delegates and all 40 in the state Senate will be on the ballot in November and Democrats are trying to seize control for the first time in decades.
Democratic prospects looked strong at the start of the year, but in February scandals engulfed the state's three statewide office holders, all Democrats. Gov. Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring admitted to wearing blackface as young men while two women accused Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax of sexual assault in the early 2000s - charges that Fairfax denies.
As a recent poll showed that public opinion of the three men dropped in the wake of the scandal, their ability to raise significant campaign cash for downballot Democrats is in question.
"Before we take on Trump in 2020, we must work our hearts out to flip the General Assembly blue this November, and we are thrilled that Democratic candidates for President are excited to join us in this mission," Swecker said in a written statement. "Virginia Democrats are excited to welcome Mayor Pete Buttigieg to speak at our signature annual event, the Blue Commonwealth Gala. We look forward to Mayor Buttigieg energizing our activists and leaders as we turn our attention to victory. We hope many of Mayor Buttigieg's fellow Democratic candidates join him in Richmond on June 15th and support electing Virginia Democrats this November."