Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, argued that his struggle for gay rights helps him connect with black voters. His comments were made during the fifth primary debate of the 2020 presidential election cycle Wednesday after Sen. Kamala Harris of California issued a grave warning to the Democratic Party about taking the voters for granted.
The discussion emerged after Harris was asked about her criticism of the mayor’s campaign for using a stock photo of two black people from Kenya to promote a plan to address racial inequality in the United States.
“For too long, I think candidates have taken for granted constituencies that have been the backbone of the Democratic Party and have overlooked those constituencies. And they show up when it’s, you know, close to election time, and show up in a black church and want to get the vote but just haven’t been there before,” Harris said.
“We’ve got to re-create the Obama coalition to win, and that means women, that’s people of color, that’s our LGBTQ community, that’s working people, that’s our labor unions. But that is how we are going to win this election, and I intend to win,” she added.
Despite his ongoing struggle to attract the support of black voters, which data shows is necessary for the success of any eventual Democratic presidential nominee, Buttigieg said he welcomes “the challenge of connecting with black voters in America who don’t know me,” and suggested that his life as a gay man can help him with that connection.
“Let me talk about what’s in my heart and why this is so important. As mayor of a city that is racially diverse and largely low-income for eight years, I have lived and breathed the successes and struggles of the community, where far too many people live with the consequences of a racial inequity that has built up over centuries, but then compounded by policies and decisions from within living memory,” he said.
“I care about this because my faith teaches me that salvation has to do with how I make myself useful to those who have been excluded, marginalized, and cast aside and oppressed in society. I care about this because while I do not have the experience of ever having been discriminated against because of the color of my skin, I do have the experience of sometimes feeling like a stranger in my own country,” he continued.
“Turning on the news and seeing my own rights come up for debate and seeing my rights expanded by a coalition of people like me and people not at all like me, working side by side, shoulder to shoulder, making it possible for me to be standing here wearing this wedding ring in a way that couldn’t have happened two elections ago, lets me know just how deep my obligation is to help those whose rights are on the line, every day, even if they are nothing like me in their experience.”
Harris suggested that his claims weren’t enough and that America needs “a leader who had worked in many communities, knows those communities, and has the ability to bring people together.”
New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker also voiced similar concerns about the Democratic Party taking black voters for granted.
“Nobody on this stage should need a focus group to hear from African American voters,” he said.
Earlier this year, Buttigieg released a plan called The Douglass Plan: A Comprehensive Investment in the Empowerment of Black America. It has been 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 South Carolina, which concluded that his sexuality would be a barrier for him, according to a memo on the findings.
Since then, the mayor’s campaign has continued to make a series of missteps in connecting with black voters, including being accused of lying about black support for his plan and the use of Kenyans to promote it.
“Black voters are pissed off and they’re worried. They’re pissed off because the only time [their issues are paid attention] by politicians is when people are looking for their vote … We don’t want to see people miss this opportunity and lose because we are nominating someone that isn’t trusted, doesn’t have authentic connection. And so that’s what’s on the ballot,” Booker said.
Our Revolution, a political organization backed by Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, is also expected to host a Dec. 7 rally in South Bend that will highlight Buttigieg’s handling of a June fatal shooting of a black man by a white South Bend police officer and feature a black South Bend Common Council member aggrieved that two of her properties were razed by the mayor’s municipal government, The New York Times reported.
“When you can’t even take care of the needs of black folks in your own city, I don’t think you are in any position to be the president of the United States of America,” Nina Turner, a former Ohio state senator who is a national co-chairwoman of the Sanders campaign, said at a Sanders campaign fundraiser Tuesday.