I’m old enough to remember back in the early days of the 2020 Democratic primary race when all the other candidates and pretty much every cable news host in the country was in love with South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg. And what wasn’t to love? The Democrats had their first declared, openly gay (and gay married!) presidential candidate. See how diverse our party is? We’re taking woke to the next level, baby!
Everyone was singing his praises, including nearly all of the people running against him. And it’s not like he was going win or anything, so why not going on record being graciously LGBT friendly? Yeah, well those days are apparently over. Mayor Pete has crept up far enough in the polls, particularly in Iowa and New Hampshire, to the point where he’s starting to be described as one of the frontrunners. And that means that the time for niceties is over and the long knives are coming out. As the Hill reports, some of the strongest shots are coming from Julian Castro and Elizabeth Warren, with Kamala Harris thrown in for good measure.
There may be no surer sign that a campaign is gaining traction than when its opponents begin to attack.
And the attacks are beginning to come against South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, until now virtually unchallenged in his improbable rise through the crowded field of Democratic presidential candidates.
Polls show Buttigieg rising into the top tier of candidates, alongside some whose political careers began before he was born.
But as his support grows, other candidates still trying to achieve their own breakout moments are beginning to question whether he has the experience to run the nation, or the ability to beat President Trump.
Castro wasn’t beating around the bush and went for the easiest attack. He declared that the Democrats need someone who “can appeal to the African American and Latino communities.” Probably a fair enough statement, but is Castro the right person to bring it? After all, his level of support among black voters in South Carolina in one of the most recent polls is, (checks notes) one percent.
Warren went after Buttigieg for not fully embracing her M4A plan, saying that anyone who didn’t adopt a platform as progressive as hers stood no chance against Trump. Of course, that’s the plan that’s going to require a minimum of 20 trillion in new spending, so we’ll see how well that glider lands at the primary airport. If anything, Buttigieg’s sense of caution over these massive spending plans is the one thing that might lift him up.
Kamala Harris knocked Mayor Pete for saying the race was down to a few people, not including her. It’s easy to see how that snub would sting, but we’re talking about the same candidate that just closed all of her offices in New Hampshire and whose campaign piggy bank is reportedly running on fumes.
Of all of them, however, Castro’s complaints probably come closest to the mark. Rightly or wrongly, Pete Buttigieg has landed with a thud among black voters. Some have argued that it’s because older, more heavily religious black voters have a problem with his sexuality. I would argue that such a claim is pretty hard to quantify accurately from polling data and, even if true, probably applies across racial lines.
More likely is the early media attention to his firing of an African-American police chief in South Bend (for questionable reasons) combined with all of the low-income property in predominantly minority neighborhoods that he had bulldozed (literally) as part of his urban renewal programs. Those things have probably left a bad taste in the mouths of many minority voters.
That leaves us with two questions. Can anyone actually win the Democratic nomination without significant support from the black community? And even if they do, will they be able to turn out the number of minority voters that Barack Obama did in both of his races but Hillary Clinton failed to do in hers? Somebody is treading on dangerous political ground here, but we won’t know for a while yet exactly who it is.