After a series of recent reports showing gay Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg struggling to woo conservative black voters nationally, the South Bend, Indiana, mayor’s campaign is now under fire for lying about the level of black support he has in the early voting state of South Carolina.
The controversy, according to The Intercept, is related to a policy proposed by Buttigieg called The Douglass Plan: A Comprehensive Investment in the Empowerment of Black America. It is touted as a plan that “dismantles old systems and structures that inhibit prosperity and builds new ones that will unlock the collective potential of Black America.”
When the plan was released by Buttigieg’s campaign this summer, they also held focus groups with undecided black voters in the state which concluded that his sexuality would be a barrier for him, according to a memo on the findings.
“Being gay was a barrier for these voters, particularly for the men who seemed deeply uncomfortable even discussing it. It was not necessarily a red line that they wouldn’t cross and many of the voters – particularly the older women – seemed genuinely intrigued by the Mayor after hearing more. But their preference is for his sexuality to not be front and center,” according to a key finding highlighted in the memo.
Shortly after, the Buttigieg campaign began promoting a list of some 400 South Carolinian supporters of his Douglass Plan including prominent black leaders such as Columbia City Councilwoman Tameika Devine; Rehoboth Baptist pastor and state Rep. Ivory Thigpen; and Johnnie Cordero, chair of the state party’s Black Caucus.
The three prominent community leaders say the way the campaign promoted their support for the plan made it appear as if they were endorsing Buttigieg.
“Clearly from the number of calls I received about my endorsement, I think the way they put it out there wasn’t clear, that it was an endorsement of the plan, and that may have been intentionally vague. I’m political, I know how that works,” Devine told The Intercept. “I do think they probably put it out there thinking people wouldn’t read the fine print or wouldn’t look at the details or even contact the people and say, ‘Hey, you’re endorsing Mayor Pete?’”
Thigpen, who has already endorsed Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont for president, said he too was shocked by the way Buttieg’s campaign sold their support of his plan.
“How it was rolled out was not an accurate representation of where I stand,” Thigpen told The Intercept. “I didn’t know about its rolling out. Somebody brought it to my attention, and it was alarming to me, because even though I had had conversations with the campaign, it was clear to me, or at least I thought I made it clear to them, that I was a strong Bernie Sanders supporter — actually co-chair of the state, and I was not seeking to endorse their candidate or the plan. But what I had talked about was potentially giving them a quote of support in continuing the conversation, because I do think it’s a very important conversation.”
The publication also found that a majority of the 400 supporters of the plan were white and not black as some people may have been led to believe.
In a statement regarding support for Buttigieg’s plan, the mayor’s campaign said it was not their intent to mislead anyone.
“Our campaign is working to build a multi-racial coalition, and we sought and received input from numerous Black policy experts and advisers to create a comprehensive plan to dismantle systemic racism: the Douglass Plan. We asked a number of Black South Carolinians, as well as South Carolinians from many backgrounds, to support the Douglass Plan, and we are proud and grateful that hundreds agreed to do so,” the campaign told The Intercept in a statement.
“We never gave the impression publicly that these people were endorsing Pete, only that they supported the plan. After they indicated their support, we reached out to people multiple times giving them the opportunity to review the language of the op-ed and the option to opt-out. We did hear from people who weren’t comfortable being listed and we removed them,” the statement continued. “Pete will continue to talk about the Douglass Plan wherever he goes, regardless of the audience, as there are many communities of Americans committed to eradicating racial inequity.”
In addition to the controversy in South Carolina, the Daily Beast also reported that Buttigieg’s campaign had used a stock photo image of a Kenyan woman to promote his plan to help black Americans.
A new Des Moines Register/CNN/Mediacom poll published this past weekend showed Buttigieg leading among likely Iowa caucusgoers with 25 percent support to lead the field of Democratic presidential candidates. His closest rival is Sen. Elizabeth Warren at 16 percent.