The Democratic pillow-fight against Pete Buttigieg

Let’s start with a confession about last night’s Democratic debate. I didn’t watch it. They put these things on too late in the evening for old geezers like me, so I was forced to watch the highlight reels (such as they were) this morning. Or perhaps lowlights might be a better term. But even watching what were supposed to be some of the most compelling exchanges, one thing definitely stood out. Nobody seemed particularly hungry to take on the frontrunners. And the clearest example of that phenomenon came in the seemingly gentle treatment that Pete Buttigieg received.

When I previewed the debate yesterday, I asked if anyone would bring up “the gay question” with Mayor Pete or his lack of support among black primary voters. The answer to the first question was no, at least as far as I’ve seen thus far. But the second issue did come up… and it flopped spectacularly.

The only person who really seemed to address the dearth of minority support for the new Iowa and New Hampshire frontrunner was Kamala Harris. And even then, it was more of a side-eye than a right cross. (Washington Post)

“For too long candidates, I think, have taken for granted constituencies that have been the backbone of the Democratic Party,” Harris said. “They show up when it’s close to election time, show up at a black church.”

She urged the party to do more to rebuild the Obama coalition.

“I completely agree,” Buttigieg said. “I welcome the challenge of connecting with black voters who don’t know me.”

I’m not sure Mayor Pete’s problem is “black voters who don’t know him” so much as the black voters who have been finding out too much about him. Between his firing of an African-American Police Chief in South Bend for dubious reasons and his program to plow under one thousand buildings in low-income, majority black neighborhoods, Buttigieg has developed something of a reputation.

Further, recent reporting has revealed that African-American representation on the police force in his home town has actually declined by 25% under his tenure. That stands in rather stark contrast to his claim last night of wanting to vastly increase the number of black and Hispanic law enforcement officers around the country. For a key demographic he’ll need to win both the primary and the general election, this may be shaping up to be more a case of looking at what he’s done rather than listening to his promises.

Staying on the subject of race, perhaps one of the more stunning or even offensive comments directed at Joe Biden came from Booker. In an obvious reference to black voters, he went after Biden for not fully endorsing marijuana legalization. Was this some sort of implication that all black people smoke pot?

In any event, Biden’s response went very far off the mark. (Emphasis added)

“I come out of the black community in terms of my support,” Biden said. “They know me.”

Biden also claimed to have the support of “the only black African American woman had ever been elected to the United States Senate.” It was an apparent reference to an endorsement from former senator Carol Moseley Braun (Ill.), but disregarded Harris — who, onstage, laughed and shrugged.

Since she’s been dropping dramatically in the polls it’s kind of understandable that some of the frontrunners might tend to ignore Harris, but that was taking it a bit too far, wasn’t it? If Biden tries to dance on the head of a pin over this he might try to suggest that, while Harris is black, her Jamaican ancestry is “different” than African? But that wouldn’t play very well either. On her Senate page, Harris describes herself as, “the second African-American woman and first South Asian-American senator in history.”

Biden’s other possible out to “correct” his comment might be to point out that he used the past tense word “had” when referring to Carol Moseley Braun. At the time of her election, she was certainly the only one. Either way, Biden still managed to shove his foot in his mouth again.

Considering we’re talking about the party that loves to dwell on race and identity politics 24/7 when they go on cable news shows, they certainly didn’t seem interested in the subject when it came time to face off with each other. But at least for the moment, Biden seems to remain the candidate with the most minority support, gaffes and all. And that’s a puzzle that Pete Buttigieg needs to solve if he really wants a shot at this thing.