The story of last weekend’s Nevada caucuses was the beginning of a process that clears up blurred pictures of the constitution of support for the Democratic presidential hopefuls.
Nevada was the first more racially-diverse state in the process to nominate a presidential candidate for the Democratic party.
America’s most popular democratic socialist, Bernie Sanders, has promised to raise a multiracial and multigenerational coalition to defeat Donald Trump. Nevada showed that he was on course.
For every two Latino voters, one voted for Sanders. Among African Americans, Sanders gathered 27% support, according to Vox.
Former Vice-President Joe Biden won about 40% of the African-American support and was a distant second with Latinos.
However, the Nevada test of who can raise a voter base that looks like America was failed by the two surprises from the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary.
Minnesota senator Amy Klobuchar and former South Bend, Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg, polled three and two percentage points respectively with African Americans who make up 11% of Nevada’s Democratic electorate.
Heading into Nevada, Buttigieg was polling under two percent nationally, in some polls. The numbers were somehow worse for Klobuchar.
Although both candidates have their challenges with the African-American vote, it is the abstract-point-preaching neoliberal Buttigieg who has made headlines in recent weeks with how he has handled the problem.
In November of 2019, Buttigieg was accused of “overstating” his African-American support. His campaign had put out a release touting the support of more 400 South Carolinians for Buttigieg’s Douglass Plan.
The Douglass Plan, named after the famous abolitionist Frederick Douglass, is a policy proposal aimed at tackling systemic racism by focusing federal dollars on empowering businesses in minority communities.
In the voice of the supposed 400-plus black South Carolinians, the release noted:
There is one presidential candidate who has proven to have intentional policies designed to make a difference in the Black experience, and that’s Pete Buttigieg…We are over 400 South Carolinians, including business owners, pastors, community leaders, and students. Together, we endorse his Douglass Plan for Black America, the most comprehensive roadmap for tackling systemic racism offered by a 2020 presidential candidate.”
In the end, it turned out some of the names attached to this fine-tuned endorsement of Buttigieg’s candidacy did not lend their consent to the campaign.
Columbia City Councilwoman Tameika Devine told The Intercept: “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.”
Another name on the list, Johnnie Cordero, responded: “I never endorsed that plan. I don’t know how my name got on there.”
Misrepresentation of people was unimaginably not the worst sin Buttigieg’s campaign made out of thin air. It turned out many of the people on the all-important list were not black.
The sleight of hand here is that the campaign never said the list was entirely made up of black people. But at the least, to have shown up in a plan for Black America, only one guess was left to the public.
The spectacular embarrassment this caused his campaign meant that Buttigieg had to employ face-saving tactics. But whatever Douglass-gate was, it loomed into an older piece about the lot of black people in Mayor Pete’s South Bend.
Right after launching his campaign last June, Buttigieg was forced to confront a potentially-debilitating matter of a young black man shot and killed by a police officer.
The community of African Americans in South Bend was unhappy about how Mayor Pete’s office handled the issue. The fallout of this contention birthed a viral internet video of a disagreement between a black woman in South Bend and the presidential hopeful.
“You’re running for president, and you want black people to vote for you? That’s not going to happen,” said the woman.
To which Buttigieg curtly replied, “Ma’am, I’m not asking for your vote.”
For many, this betrayed a certain dismissiveness in character with what the 38-year-old has been known for.
In 2012, the manner of his firing of the city’s first black police chief has become an albatross he cannot shake off. By his own admission, this “affected my relationship with the African-American community in particular for years to come.”
The “well-of-things Buttigieg doesn’t understand about race” apparently ran deeper.
A video surfaced of a 2011 debate prior to the mayoral elections in South Bend, in which Buttigieg spoke to the issue of endemic poverty among black people.
For him, the cause of poverty was simply the point that young African Americans do not stay in school.
“…you believe that at the end of your educational process, there’s a reward. There’s a stable life…There isn’t somebody they (black kids) know personally who testifies to the value of education.”
What has been attempts to rise above the rockiness and seal the fractures in his relationship with black people have only self-inflicted wounds Mayor Pete’s opponents have enough salt for.
One may even question the authenticity of these attempts. A candidate polling negligible figures with a community he wishes to woo should have more than four field offices in South Carolina, of all places.
In contrast, the Pete For America campaign invested heavily in its ground game in lily-white Iowa and New Hampshire.
The desperation is palpable but Buttigieg’s efforts to overcome a hydra have rather revealed his well-meaning paternalism, dismissiveness, naivete and even his feelings that his sexuality is why he is disliked by black people.
In the last two weeks, Buttigieg has claimed he has partnered with a popular black-owned restaurant in South Carolina but whose owner says she has no such relationship with the former mayor’s campaign.
And when actor Keegan-Michael Key wanted to advocate for high voter turnout in conjunction with campaigns, Buttigieg’s handles mistook that for an endorsement of their man.
Hours later, the campaign was forced to clarify.
To his credit, Mayor Pete is not the worst candidate among the seven remaining contestants in the primaries. Even if his penchant for platitudes can be offputting, he is a man aware of the uniqueness of this time – that America stands on the cusp of making century-shaping choices.
Climate change is on his agenda. But he has also mentioned the need to relook at military adventurism as well as face the issue of income and wealth inequality through the capacities of government and not the de facto free-market.
This does not overshadow the importance of electing a very, very young socially-liberal man who looks and aspires like the majority of America’s tomorrow.
As a result of pitching himself in opposition to frontrunner Bernie Sanders, mainstream media has decided Mayor Pete is moderate.
Philosophically, no one can say for sure where the needle points to America’s center. But anywhere it is, Mayor Pete is considerably some paces to the left.
His unimaginative and performative approach to the issues of race will however not be overlooked because of the above. Neither would he be forgiven because he reminds people of the only black president America has had.