As primaries near, Buttigieg struggles to make headway with black voters
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[January 28, 2020]
By Jarrett Renshaw
ORANGEBURG, S.C. (Reuters) - Pete Buttigieg
is betting big on Iowa and New Hampshire, hoping success in the largely
white states will help him overcome dismal support from black voters by
the time more diverse states weigh in on his bid for the presidency.
Buttigieg's most recent swing through South Carolina, the first state
with a large black population to hold a primary, underscored the depth
of his challenge with the critical Democratic voting bloc.
Amid campaign stops designed to put Buttigieg before black audiences,
the white, openly gay, former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, faced
continued questions about his record on race, his ability to earn black
voters' trust and his sexuality.
"It's South Carolina. We are gas, sweet tea and religion," said Mattie
Thomas, who co-chairs the state’s Democratic Black Women Caucus. "For
many people, they believe their God won't let them support him."
Buttigieg, 38, has spent the last year successfully courting Democratic
donors and voters in the predominantly white states of Iowa and New
Hampshire, where polls show the Harvard-educated, military veteran in
the top tier of candidates a week before Iowa's Feb. 3 caucuses.
But a lack of black voter support could doom his White House chances.
A national Washington Post-Ipsos poll this month showed Buttigieg with
just 2% support from Democratic black voters nationally, far behind
former Vice President Joe Biden's 48% and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders'
20%. In South Carolina, where roughly 30% of the population is black,
Buttigieg has remained in the single digits.
Buttigieg lacks the national profile and long-standing relationships
with the black community that have boosted Biden. His recently ended
tenure as mayor has come under scrutiny, including a lack of diversity
on the local police force and a fatal shooting of a black resident by a
He has tried to confront those concerns head-on. Buttigieg named black
employees to key positions on the campaign and released a detailed
policy proposal – dubbed the Frederick Douglass Plan, named after the
19th-century abolitionist leader who was born into slavery – that would
send more federal money to black colleges and black-owned businesses,
said Hasoni Pratts, the campaign's national engagement director.
On Monday, the campaign announced endorsements from three state
officials, including the first black mayor of the small town of
[to top of second column]
Democratic presidential candidate, former mayor of South Bend,
Indiana, Pete Buttigieg speaks during a campaign event in North
Liberty, Iowa, U.S., January 27, 2020. REUTERS/Eric Thayer
"MOSTLY WHITE PEOPLE SHOWING UP"
Yet at an event last week at Claflin University, a historically
black college in Orangeburg, South Carolina, Buttigieg said most of
his campaign events in the state still lacked diversity.
“I’ll be honest, it’s mostly white people showing up,” Buttigieg
said. "In order to win, in order to deserve to win, I need to be
speaking to everyone," he added.
Larry McCutcheon, a 69-year-old black pastor, said he was open to
voting for Buttigieg and gets angry at the portrayal of blacks as
homophobic. Looking at some empty seats in the university hall,
McCutcheon said the bigger issue was that Buttigieg's message had
not resonated with enough black voters in the state.
"You can see just from this event that he has a problem,” McCutcheon
Buttigieg's campaign blames his sluggish poll numbers on black
voters' lack of familiarity with the candidate, who did not have a
national profile before entering the race. As that changes, so will
his poll numbers, the campaign says.
In a phone interview, Pratts said the campaign had been the victim
of a “false” narrative that had “spiraled out control” about
Buttigieg’s handling of race issues during his tenure as mayor.
She said Buttigieg would keep showing up at events with black voters
and answering tough questions.
“I get this is an ongoing process of earning trust," Buttigieg said
in Orangeburg. "I get that, as a new guy, I don’t have decades worth
of experience with folks around the country. We have our story of
our city, which is good, bad and indifferent."
Afterward, Delanie Frierson, 66, said it was unlikely she would vote
for Buttigieg in South Carolina's Feb. 29 primary. She believes he
has falsely equated gay rights to civil rights, a comparison she
describes as insulting.
“Pete can walk into a room and no one will know if he's gay," she
said. "A black person can’t do that."
(Reporting by Jarrett Renshaw; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Leslie
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