In the contest for the next head of the Democratic National Committee, former DNC Chairman Steve Grossman is endorsing South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Pete Buttigieg, a move that could help the mayor separate himself in pack of underdog candidates vying for attention amid the contest's upper-tier names.
Grossman, who led the party under President Bill Clinton from 1997 to 1999, is only the third former national chair to make an endorsement this year.
The race, which will be decided in a vote later this month, has been dominated by Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison and former Labor Secretary Tom Perez. But Buttigieg, a 35-year-old Afghan vet, has attracted attention as he tries to position himself as the third choice in a field that includes up to 11 candidates.
In letter to be sent to DNC members Thursday, Grossman says Buttigieg can "transform the DNC through the power of his ideas and his ability to execute an ambitious plan."
"At a time when many have lost faith in the future and have severe doubts that their children's and grandchildren's lives will be better than their own, we need a Democratic Party leader who makes optimism a way of life and believes in the power of grassroots organizing to change and improve the quality of peoples' lives. That's what Democrats have always believed and it's at the heart of Pete Buttigieg's values and character," Grossman wrote.
Grossman, a former Massachusetts state treasurer and gubernatorial candidate, chaired the DNC during the 1998 midterm election, when the party bucked historical trends and the weight of the Monica Lewinsky scandal to make modest gains in Congress.
The other former chairmen to pick a candidate this year are Terry McAuliffe, who backed Perez, and Don Fowler, who endorsed fellow South Carolinian Jaime Harrison, the chairman of that state's Democratic Party.
In an interview, Grossman said the party needs to cultivating younger leaders like Buttigieg.
"The Democratic Party does not have a good bench right now. We need to recruit, train, mentor and nurture the next generation of party leaders at every level," Grossman said.
And in a race fraught with lingering tensions from the presidential primary, Grossman said Buttigieg can unite the progressive and establishment wings of the party and give Bernie Sanders supporters a sense of "stakeholdership" in a party they haven't always felt welcome in.
Grossman said he'll make calls to DNC members he still has relationships with to lobby them to take another look at Buttigieg.
"I know he's an underdog," Grossman said of Buttigieg. "I just want them to keep an open mind to give him a fair shot."
The 447 members of the DNC will elect a new chairman during a meeting in Atlanta on Feb. 24.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that only one former DNC chair had made an endorsement in this year's race, failing to include Fowler's support for Harrison.