- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 11, 2020

MILFORD, N.H. — Pete Buttigieg is about to come face-to-face with his political kryptonite: skeptical minority voters.

The former South Bend mayor’s promise to unify a divided nation has hit home with the predominantly white audiences in Iowa and New Hampshire, but the jury is out on whether that message will resonate with the more diverse electorates in Nevada and South Carolina when they vote this month.

“Buttigieg is clearly concerned about the lack of support in black and Hispanic communities, but so far he has not managed to move the needle in his direction at all,” said Tim Malloy, an analyst for the Quinnipiac University Poll.

Though Mr. Buttigieg narrowly won the Iowa caucuses and ran a strong second Tuesday in New Hampshire, the challenge facing him was on the minds of voters who want to make sure whoever the party fields can bring down President Trump.

“He has struggled with black voters and minorities,” said Kevin Boardman, a social worker who voted for Mr. Sanders. “I also think to beat someone like Trump, we can’t have a moderate.”

“We have to have someone who has a little bit of fire and passion and Bernie, I think, has that to go after Trump,” the 28-year-old said.

Nevertheless, his New Hampshire supporters say they’re absolutely confident that Mr. Buttigieg’s more moderate pitch and can-do Midwestern attitude will resonate beyond the Granite State.

“I’m confident he would put together a well-rounded, intelligent Cabinet. And he’s also big on representing our country a little more responsibly,” said Mark Bokhan, a retired software engineer from Milford. “Health care, too — instead of we’re going to give the world to everybody, he’s more realistic.”

But Mr. Buttigieg’s rivals have seized on his struggles with minority voters, warning that it could prove to be a fatal flaw in the general election.

“He hasn’t been able to unify the black community,” former Vice President Joe Biden recently told ABC News.

The bad news for Mr. Biden is that the black support that was seen as the bedrock of his bid is eroding, according to the latest Quinnipiac national poll that found his black support plummeted from 51% in December to 27%.

The survey poll found that Mr. Sanders, 19%, was the second choice of black voters.

Since December, meanwhile, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s black support jumped to 22% from 7%, Sen. Elizabeth Warren saw her support dip to 8% from 12% and Mr. Buttigieg’s inched up to 4% from 2% — growth that’s within the survey’s margin of error.

A Monmouth University poll released Monday showed that 8% of minority voters backed Mr. Buttigieg. Mr. Sanders led the field on that front with 28%, followed by Mr. Biden, 20%, Mr. Bloomberg, 12%, and Ms. Warren, 11%.

Mr. Buttigieg’s struggles with the black community stem from his 2012 firing of South Bend’s first black police chief over accusations that he improperly tapped the phones of white officers in the department that were alleged to be using racist language.

Racial tensions flared up again last summer when a black man was shot dead by a white police officer who had failed to activate his body camera.

And Mr. Buttigieg was put on the defensive in the debate last week when he was pressed over why black residents of South Bend were arrested at a higher rate than white residents for marijuana possession.

Roger Lau, the campaign manager for Sen. Elizabeth Warren, mentioned Mr. Buttigieg’s struggles with black voters in a Tuesday memo outlining what they believe to be other candidates’ weaknesses.

“Former Mayor Buttigieg’s most significant challenge is yet to come, as the contest moves into states with more diverse electorates, and he still hasn’t answered tough questions about his record in South Bend,” Mr. Lau said in the memo.

In an open letter this week to the South Carolina Post and Courier, former Richland County South Carolina, Council Chair Bernice Scott, founder of the “Reckoning Crew,” a group of predominantly black women, warned Mr. Buttigieg that black voters have “serious questions” about his record.

“Your record on systemic racism in South Bend continues to trouble South Carolina voters,” Ms. Scott wrote this week.

The group initially backed Sen. Kamala Harris but threw its support behind Mr. Biden after the California Democrat pulled out of the race.

Mr. Buttigieg, meanwhile, carried the momentum into New Hampshire after narrowly defeating Mr. Sanders in the Iowa caucuses.

But it is unclear whether he has received any bounce in Nevada or South Carolina, where there has not been a single post-caucus survey.

For his part, Mr. Buttigieg insists that black voters are just getting to know him and that he is working to earn their support.

“A big part of what’s happening right now is that voters of color who are laser-focused on defeating this president, more than anything else want to know that you can actually win,” Mr. Buttigieg said in an interview that aired Tuesday on NBC’s “Today” show.

“The process of proving that has only really been underway for the last few days after a year of campaigning, proposing, talking and that I believe is getting us the look that we now need as we will travel directly to states like Nevada, South Carolina and the Super Tuesday states that have a lot of racial diversity and where we can make that case eye to eye,” he said.

Seth McLaughlin reported from Washington, D.C.

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