Buttigieg Struggles to Make Inroads With Black Voters in South

(Bloomberg) -- Pete Buttigieg is confronting a significant hurdle in turning his surprising surge in the Democratic presidential race into a sustainable campaign for the nomination -- winning over the black voters who will be crucial to the party in 2020.

In a little more than a month, Buttigieg has transformed from a little-known mayor from the Midwest into a candidate in the top group of Democrats who want to challenge President Donald Trump next year. But polls show he barely registers with black voters, who are a crucial constituency to win both the nomination and the general election.

That disconnect was evident in one of the South Bend, Indiana, mayor’s first stops during campaign swing through South Carolina, where blacks comprise more than half of the Democratic electorate. At a town hall event Sunday in North Charleston, the crowd of about 600 people was overwhelmingly white.

Buttigieg Struggles to Make Inroads With Black Voters in South

“What this tells us is that we’ve got a lot of work cut out for us,” Buttigieg told reporters. “In order to win and in order to deserve to win, my campaign needs to go above and beyond when reaching out to black voters and that’s going to continue to be a priority to us.”

Buttigieg followed Democratic front-runner Joe Biden into the state, where the former vice president highlighted his link to former President Barack Obama, the nation’s first black president, and his friendship with South Carolina Representative Jim Clyburn, the top ranking African American in the House. That’s helped him build a solid lead in South Carolina in two recent polls.

In Orangeburg, South Carolina, on Monday, Buttigieg said developing policies to benefit the black community “is one of the most important pieces of homework for our campaign.”

He listed five broad areas of focus: home ownership, health care, entrepreneurship, criminal justice reform and education. He appealed to the crowd, again mostly white, for help to deliver his message to minority groups. “So that even as voters are deciding whether or not they’ll be for me, there’s no question that I’m there for them,” he said.

Johnnie Cordero, the chair of the South Carolina Democratic Party Black Caucus, stressed that in order to win South Carolina, presidential hopefuls need to present policies to fix issues affecting minorities.

“We said in 2018 that we had to have a blue wave. What I’ve said in response to that and what I say now is there will be no blue wave without a black wave,” Cordero said in an interview. “We can all work together. We can all work for the same good. But our issues need to be acknowledged.”

In North Charleston, Buttigieg told reporters he understands that some African American voters may be mistrusting of him as a newer political face and whether he will actually support them. “That’s the hard work of politics,” Buttigieg said. “I welcome that challenge.”

Cordero said that Buttigieg met with a group of the state’s Democratic Party officials in March and that he was impressed by the candidate’s knowledge of the issues.

“I grilled him so badly that the other delegates told me to shut up,” Cordero said in an interview. “I was most impressed with him. He answered every question directly, he didn’t have to check with anybody else, he did not hesitate and he did not let me scare him.”

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