A Look At How Pete Buttigieg Is Reaching Out To Voters

Apr 4, 2019
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You could be forgiven if you think South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg is already running for president. He has not officially jumped into the 2020 race, but today he teased a big announcement in 10 days. In the meantime, the white Midwestern Democrat has focused on outreach to black voters. NPR's Daniel Kurtzleben reports.

DANIELLE KURTZLEBEN, BYLINE: Pete Buttigieg was in New York City this morning to speak with the National Action Network; this civil rights conference, led by Reverend Al Sharpton, is a key stop for Democratic presidential candidates.

(SOUNDBITE OF CONFERENCE)

AL SHARPTON: Mayor Pete Buttigieg, let me say - and I'm still practicing saying your name, but don't be offended. It took me two months to say Obama right, and I ended up endorsing him.

KURTZLEBEN: To win the Democratic nomination, outreach to black voters like those at this conference is key.

(SOUNDBITE OF CONFERENCE)

PETE BUTTIGIEG: I believe an agenda for black Americans needs to include five things that all of us care about - homeownership, entrepreneurship, education, health and justice.

KURTZLEBEN: Buttigieg also affirmed to Sharpton that, as president, he would sign a bill that would start a study of reparations. Kimberlyn Carter, a brand strategist from Macon, Ga., went into the conference already impressed by Buttigieg.

KIMBERLYN CARTER: I think that he represents a political exceptionality that we haven't seen, ever - I'm saying ever.

KURTZLEBEN: She rattled off a list of Buttigieg's accomplishments - the fact that he's multilingual, a veteran and an accomplished pianist, to name a few. And she adds, with some surprise, that the openly gay mayor has already won over one loyal Democratic voter she knows.

CARTER: She thinks his husband is cool - my mom, 80-year-old, Bible Belt, African-American woman - she's like, he gives me so much hope.

KURTZLEBEN: Still, Buttigieg could face some hurdles on his record with race issues. For example, this week, a 2015 instance surfaced of Buttigieg saying, all lives matter, a statement often seen as diminishing the Black Lives Matter movement. Buttigieg made sure to emphasize a different message this morning.

(SOUNDBITE OF CONFERENCE)

BUTTIGIEG: When we assert what should go without saying, but in these times, must be said clearly and again and again, that black lives matter.

KURTZLEBEN: In addition, Buttigieg's economic record may give some voters pause. One 2017 report found substantial racial economic gaps in South Bend that mirror those nationwide. In an interview with NPR, Buttigieg says that he hopes to alleviate that via initiatives like boosting minority entrepreneurship. On top of that, Buttigieg is still new on the scene, and until recently, has lacked a national profile. That could hurt him among pragmatic black voters, says Theodore Johnson, a senior fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice.

THEODORE JOHNSON: Voters that vote in a pragmatic fashion, sort of very practically, they're not moved by the latest poll numbers or with the fad of the day or, you know, the latest hot thing because there's too much at stake.

KURTZLEBEN: And Buttigieg is one of the latest hot things in the Democratic field; Google searches of him have spiked over the last month, and he announced a $7-million fundraising haul. His challenge now is to make that more than a short-term bump. For Francis Byrd, a financial analyst from Brooklyn, Buttigieg is too inexperienced to be running and is benefiting from white privilege, along with competitor Beto O'Rourke.

FRANCIS BYRD: I think there are candidates who are way too far afield and who haven't won races or who haven't won a statewide race, and that maybe they need to sort of prove that out in order to be able to gain further confidence.

KURTZLEBEN: But if Buttigieg does win the nomination, Byrd would vote for him, if begrudgingly. Many Democratic voters, regardless of race, just want a win next year. Danielle Kurtzleben, NPR News, New York.

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