Prominent South Carolina pastor criticizes outreach of some Democratic candidates to black voters

Democratic presidential candidates (L-R) Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), former Vice President Joe Biden, and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) arrive on stage before the start of the Democratic Presidential Debate at Tyler Perry Studios November 20, 2019 in Atlanta, Georgia. | Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Joe Darby, a prominent South Carolina pastor who leads the Nichols Chapel AME Zion church in Charleston, recently criticized the outreach of some Democratic presidential candidates in the state where six in 10 Democratic primary voters are black.

The criticism came just days before voters go to the polls on Feb. 29 and a day before the candidates are expected to make their case to the nation in a Democratic presidential debate in South Carolina on Tuesday night.

Darby, in an interview with The Washington Post, said while candidates like former mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, and Sen. Amy Klobuchar D-Minn., who are both struggling to attract black voters might blame their struggles on things like a lack of money or name recognition, he believes the disconnect is due to a lack of their investment in the state as well as their understanding of the issues in the community.

“I finally got a call from someone on behalf of Amy Klobuchar, who wanted to talk to me. But my first question is going to be where have you been?” Darby told The Washington Post on Saturday.

He was also critical of their advertising in the state.

Pastor Joe Darby | Screenshot/YouTube

“The basic message to me is ‘Hello, I’m Pete Buttigieg, and I like black people. Clearly, black people like me too because I’m surrounded by them. Amy Klobuchar’s too,” Darby said. “I’m waiting for dashikis and the Afro wigs to come out.”

Darby noted that he has told voters seeking advice on the candidates to vote their conscience and measure how much each candidate has invested in the state.

“They know who’s been here and who hasn’t been here,” he said. “They know who’s alien and who’s familiar. They know who fell in love with the state recently and who has history. And I think they’ll respond accordingly.”

Last summer, Darby also told CBS News that even though Buttigieg has presented himself as a progressive Christian, part of the disconnect with him and the black community stems from their Christian conservatism.

"Black church folks, particularly Southern black church folks, tend to be very progressive when it comes to issues of advocacy, equity, justice, that kind of thing, but tend to [be] socially conservative on issues of the flesh ... there's slight discomfort that I've learned, with someone simply being LGBT," Darby said. "It's unfortunate because he's got a good message ... and he does an excellent job in articulating his faith, so I think if folks look beyond the issue of [sexuality] and listened to what he said, they would probably be impressed [but] I don't know if a lot of folks are going to do that."

Darby, who is also a vice president at the NAACP’s Charleston Branch, also told CBS News that faith should be a critical factor in choosing the next president and he believes most of the Democratic candidates have articulated their faith very well.

“I think it should be critically important. I think it’s not a light decision to pick someone to lead the nation. You need someone who has the ability. You need someone who has the decency. You need someone who has the restraint and you need someone who has the foresight to do a good job. I think all of those are things that people of faith should pray about when they are thinking about who they want as president,” he said.

new Morning Consult survey, conducted after Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont’s victory in Nevada Saturday, shows a plurality of Democratic voters now believe he has the best chance of beating President Donald Trump in November. 

Sanders has also overtaken former Vice President Joe Biden as the favored candidate among black voters nationally for the first time. The former vice president is still leading among African Americans in South Carolina, however, according to a new NBC News/Marist poll.

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