(Bloomberg) -- Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg said the U.S. is going through a period of “tectonic change” and needs a new generation of leadership to counter the cynicism and resentment that’s currently driving much of the political debate.

The 37-year-old mayor of South Bend, Indiana, said the election of President Donald Trump was a symptom of the unease among Americans, and that Democrats must offer more than a restoration of pre-2016 status quo.

"A promise to return to normal ignores that normal hasn’t been working for a lot of people," Buttigieg said in an address Thursday to the City Club in Chicago.

It was a pointed, if indirect, contrast to the message of 76-year-old former Vice President Joe Biden, the current front-runner in the race, which is based in part on his link to the administration of former President Barack Obama.

The youngest candidate in the race, Buttigieg argued that the country needs a new generation of leadership.

Tangible Change

He said the focus by some fellow Democrats on looking for “smoking-gun proof that the president’s not that good of a guy” distracts the party from offering voters tangible change. It also ignores that many voters, like some in his Midwestern city, voted for Trump “in order to send a message that they wanted to burn the house down.”

He cited his experience as guiding economic development in South Bend, which like many Rust Belt cities has been slowly eroded by the decline of manufacturing. Referencing Trump’s slogan, he said “we couldn’t just make South Bend great again.”

“What we had to face was that the future wasn’t going to look like the past,” Buttigieg said. “The way out of the abandoned factories, the collapsing homes, the population loss and the reduced income, wasn’t to try to dredge greatness out of some impossible ’again’ but rather to make sure that the future looked different from the past.”

Buttigieg has gotten a surge of support over the past two months that has vaulted him into the upper ranks of the 23 candidates seeking the Democratic nomination, though well behind Biden and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.

To contact the reporter on this story: Emma Kinery in Washington at ekinery@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Kasia Klimasinska at kklimasinska@bloomberg.net, Joe Sobczyk, Wendy Benjaminson

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