Last night’s debate ahead of Saturday’s South Carolina primary was loaded with plenty of pandering to the Black vote. It makes sense. African-Americans make up 60% of the state’s Democratic voter base. But one candidate stood out for not really making a play at all for South Carolina. Pete Buttigieg’s answers were only loosely directed at South Carolina voters.
It’s not that he didn’t mention South Carolina. At one point, he noted that he trained in the state. But even when he mentioned the home of the next primary, it was only as a backdrop to deliver his message to the Super Tuesday crowd who will be voting three days after South Carolina. But he shouldn’t dismiss the state. He needs a symbolic win there, even if that means coming in fourth.
Buttigieg, who has outperformed his expectations in all three previous contests, needs to come out of South Carolina with enough votes to give him a glimmer of hope of securing some of the Black vote. Otherwise, his strong performances in Iowa and New Hampshire followed by his decent performance in Nevada will not be enough to shake the stigma surrounding his campaign.
He won’t get many delegates, if any, in South Carolina. But if he finishes in fourth place at or near double-digits, then he’s still a player. Currently, he has almost no chance of catching the three frontrunners in the state—Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, and Tom Steyer—but as long as he can defeat Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar, his campaign and more importantly the media will consider it a non-loss.
If he bombs, the headlines going into Super Tuesday will show that he’s not resonating at all with Black voters. That would be enough to scare some who are considering voting for him on Super Tuesday. No Democratic candidate can win without at least a decent amount of support from African-Americans. Buttigieg is no exception.
As odd as it may sound when discussing the candidate with the second most candidates currently, an abysmal fifth or sixth place finish in South Carolina could sink Buttigieg’s chances of scoring big on Super Tuesday. He may be toast.