For a Democratic candidate to win in South Carolina, he or she must carry the black vote. More than a quarter of the population in the state is African-American and the vast majority of them vote Democrat. Representative James Clyburn (D-SC) knows this well and acknowledged today on CNN that South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg is likely going to continue to struggle there. Why? Because he’s gay.
“But for older African-Americans, it is an issue?” CNN anchor Dana Bash asked regarding Buttigieg’s outward homosexuality.
“Yes, it is,” Clyburn said. “There is no question about that. I’m not going to sit here and tell you otherwise, because I think everybody knows that is an issue. But I’m saying it is an issue, not the way it used to be. My own grandson is very much for him. He is a paid staffer working on the campaign.”
He has a point. Buttigieg is polling well in Iowa. The latest NY Times poll has him at 18%, 4-points off from Senator Elizabeth Warren and a point ahead of former Vice President Joe Biden. He’s even in double-digits in most recent New Hampshire polls despite going up against three people from the northeast. But in South Carolina, he has only been higher than 3% in one recent poll.
South Carolina will be an important contest for Buttigieg nonetheless because it will likely determine if Biden keeps going. If Biden loses South Carolina, it could be the cue for him to exit the race, leaving Buttigieg as the “moderate” (I use that term loosely) compared to Warren and Senator Bernie Sanders going into the all-important Super Tuesday. If Biden wins South Carolina, he will likely stay in for much longer.
Nevertheless, it bodes ill for Buttigieg as the black vote is in play in many more states other than South Carolina. He will need to figure out a way to appeal to old African-American voters if he’s going to win the nomination. That may come in the form of pandering, perhaps pushing beyond reparations or other popular issues for African Americans and cutting straight towards expanding affirmative action measures in education and employment, a topic that has thus far been avoided by the major candidates.
It would be a sad testament to the state of the Democratic Party if bigotry from one voting bloc upended the candidacy of another protected class to propel the nomination into the hands of one of the Caucasian septuagenarians.
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