/2020 Election: Pete Buttigieg’s uncomfortable-by-design Southern tour
2020 Election: Pete Buttigieg’s uncomfortable-by-design Southern tour

2020 Election: Pete Buttigieg’s uncomfortable-by-design Southern tour

2020 Election:

In this edition: Pete Buttigieg’s crusade for the black vote, another Democratic debate about the debates, and abortion rights advocates get ready to spend big on 2020.

If candidates are going to start challenging voters to push-up contests, we should just hand the nomination to John Delaney, and this is The Trailer.

2020 Election:

Pete Buttigieg and the Rev. William Barber talk to the press after a Sunday morning service in Goldsboro, N.C., on Sunday. (Logan Cyrus/AFP/Getty Images)

ALLENDALE, S, C. — The Democrats in South Carolina’s bluest county had laid out the welcome mat for Pete Buttigieg: a crowded headquarters, a soul food buffet, and praise for being the first 2020 Democrat to visit. 

The next thing the South Bend, Ind., mayor got was skepticism.

“I hear a lot about how you don’t have support from African Americans,” said Willa Jennings, the county Democratic chair. She turned to Sharon McBride, a black member of South Bend’s city council who’d come to campaign with Buttigieg. “Could you tell us some of the things that Mayor Pete has done in South Bend to benefit the citizens in your city?” 

It wasn’t comfortable. It wasn’t supposed to be. Buttigieg, who has surged in polls of Iowa and New Hampshire thanks to support from college-educated white voters, had put together a sort of Southern humility tour. A candidate breaking crowd-count records in small, white towns was holding small meet-and-greets in nonwhite ones.

“I know a lot of African American voters have felt not only kicked around by the Republican Party, but sometimes taken for granted by the Democratic Party that knows how to come to church just before an election but doesn’t always come back and engage the community when it’s most needed,” he explained. “I know that as somebody who’s new on the scene, I’ve got to earn that trust.”

Sometimes he linked his life as a gay man and son of an immigrant to the experience of nonwhite voters. Sometimes, more self-effacingly, he admitted what he didn’t know. In Allendale, where McBride called it a “myth” that Buttigieg had problems with black voters back home, Buttigieg said he was working to connect his own experience to theirs, if he only got the time.

“It’s so important to me to earn the support of black voters,” Buttigieg said. “Now, if you were the last poll that came out, I think there were two candidates who had double-digit support among black voters. All the rest of us were in [single digits]. But I don’t think that’s permanent.” 

That was a reference to a national Quinnipiac poll, which had shown Buttigieg surging to 23 percent with white voters, a lead, while winning just 4 percent of black voters. No other candidate polling in double digits overall had such a large racial support gap. His weakness with nonwhite voters has become a punchline from “Saturday Night Live” (“My supporters are a diverse coalition from young to old, gay to straight, white to eggshell”) to the Onion (“Pete Buttigieg Admits Only Recently Realizing Black People Can Vote”). And racial justice activists had piled on, with a protest breaking out at a pro-Buttigieg event in South Bend, and four immigrant rights groups demanding that he give back any donations from McKinsey employees after revelations about the consulting firm’s work on deportation.

Buttigieg’s monochrome appeal has made the campaigns of Sen. Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden (the two candidates with double-digit support from black voters in that Quinnipiac poll) happier about his rise in Iowa. In their view, the mayor could kneecap Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who has made some inroads with black and Latino voters and take over her “lane” with well-educated white voters, only to get pushed out in Nevada and South Carolina. Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin, one of the state’s most prominent black politicians — the kind of pol, an ambitious mayor of a mid-sized city, who has gotten behind the mayor in other states — endorsed Mike Bloomberg days before Buttigieg’s latest trip began. Even this week, as Buttigieg went on the air with a $2 million ad buy, supporters of Biden and Sanders dismissed his chances.

“He’s a nonstarter; he’s not going to scratch,” said Dick Harpootlian, a state senator and Biden supporter. “This is a guy who’s been the mayor of a town not even as big as Columbia, who’s got tremendous issues with race relations, who’s abandoned his city to run for president. He’s not got any sort of civil rights record that would engage African American voters. He’s too young and too white.”

The mayor’s low-key Southern tour put all of his troubles on display, as well as the different ways he has tried to tackle them — sometimes admitting his blind spots, sometimes sounding too eager to link his relatively privileged life to black and brown struggles.

On Sunday, after attending a service at the Rev. William Barber’s church in North Carolina, Buttigieg admitted that he “worked for years under the illusion that our schools in my city were integrated because they had to be, because of a court order.” On Tuesday, at a roundtable with Latino voters, he mentioned that his own father came to America in the 1970s under the “lawful immigration process.” But the experience of a first-generation Maltese American didn’t really resonate in the room.

“Part of the bigger issue that is affecting our communities is really that fear in trusting someone again, right?” said Fernando Soto, a DACA recipient and immigrant rights activist from Charleston. (He’d attended a previous meet-and-greet with Biden.) “The Latino community is very, very loyal. But we’ve been burned many times. And with the Obama administration, I would say that we were tokenized in order for that election to be won.” 

Soto wanted Buttigieg to promise an immigration solution in his first term, which Buttigieg did before returning to his overall theory of politics. “If this White House really wanted to resolve immigration issues, they could do it; there’s a bipartisan consensus, and then they could claim credit for the achievement,” Buttigieg said. “But they’ve made a decision not to. And I think that shows that the division is more useful to them than the issue. For my White House, the reverse would be true. We are depending on a more unified country.”

Without Biden’s long record in the state, or Sanders’s civil rights history, or Warren’s detailed critique of discrimination, Buttigieg was often asking voters to see his sincerity. In Allendale and at the Latino forum in Okatie, voters most impressed by Buttigieg cited his military service as evidence that he understood nonwhite voters.

“When you sign up you meet people from all kinds of different backgrounds,” said Gustavo Gomez, 47, a Marine veteran, who’d asked Buttigieg about Puerto Rican representation in Congress. (Buttigieg favored changing that “sooner rather than later,” which Gomez appreciated.) “That helps you govern better.” 

On Monday afternoon, Buttigieg took a tour of South Carolina State University in Orangeburg, solemnly visiting a memorial to students killed in 1968 when protesting a segregated bowling alley, then bowling a round at the alley on campus — eight pins, then a strike. Two dozen students stopped by for free pizza and conversations, appreciating that Buttigieg would spend the time with them.

“He just did an endorsement video for my Instagram,” said Kayla Hasty, 21, who was running in a contest to pick the top 10 “kings and queens” of historically black colleges and universities. “You don’t see many politicians doing that.” She remained undecided.

Charles C. Patton, Hasty’s running mate, was in some ways less impressed. Buttigieg was not connecting with black voters, he said, when he linked his own life to the civil rights struggle. As a queer man, Patton found Buttigieg most compelling when he talked about LGBTQ rights, a subject he clearly knew inside out.

“I was happy to hear that he knows what’s going on in our community, with black trans women, with LGBTQ youth, with homelessness,” said Patton. “That mattered to me. I like him. He’s cool. I love his policies, but sometimes people don’t have real awareness of how it affects people, and he has that.” 

It was as strong a connection as Buttigieg had all day. After their conversation, Patton was considering a vote for Buttigieg — or Biden, or Warren.

2020 Election: READING LIST

“On ‘No Malarkey’ tour, Biden seeks to reignite Iowa campaign — and vents frustration,” by Cleve R. Wootson Jr.

He’s not drawing the biggest crowds, but he’s putting in time in a state other candidates can’t afford to lose.

“Bernie splits from Warren with embrace of far-left foreign leaders,” by Alex Thompson and Holly Otterbein

The little-discussed dividing line between Sanders and the rest of the Democratic field.

“Georgia Gov. Kemp taps Kelly Loeffler for Senate seat, setting up potential clash with Trump,” by Robert Costa and Max Blau

Is a wealthy new senator MAGA enough?

“Does DeSantis want to void Amendment 4? His lawyers suggest yes, he does,” by Dara Kam

A constitutional amendment that restored felons’ voting rights keeps getting tangled up in court.

” ‘Who chose these people as black leaders?’: Protester steals mic at event for African American supporters of Pete Buttigieg,” by Teo Armus

A flashy flaring of tempers at an event that was supposed to showcase Pete Buttigieg’s work for black Hoosiers.

“Kamala Harris leaves a void in California and rivals rush in,” by Melanie Mason and Michael Finnegan

They miss their competitor, and they’re on the hunt for her donors.

“Democrats were excited about their initially diverse field. Now it’s notably whiter,” by Michael Scherer

The sudden emergence of #debatesowhite.

2020 Election: DEBATE SEASON

2020 Election:

Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) speaks at a roundtable discussion on issues affecting black men on Monday in Columbia, S.C. (Meg Kinnard/AP)

There are just seven days left for Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey to make the sixth Democratic debate. It’s not likely to happen. 

To climb onto the Los Angeles debate stage, Booker would need to hit 4 percent in four polls, or 6 percent in two polls of the early-voting states. There may not be enough polls in the field right now, even if Booker were experiencing a dramatic surge in support. Which he isn’t.

That was the backdrop for Booker’s Thursday morning speech in Iowa, a late edition to his schedule in the wake of Sen. Kamala D. Harris’s exit from the presidential race, where he argued outright that nervous donors and shortsighted debate rules were bleaching the primary before voters got to pick their candidate. 

“People in Iowa, people in New Hampshire, people in Nevada, people in South Carolina should determine this race. Not how much [money] is being poured in,” Booker said. “This isn’t about an individual candidate, as much as I am hurt, my family members hurt, as much as people are frustrated about Kamala’s story. Kamala was never in it for herself. She knew this was a bigger story. This is not about one candidate. It is about the diverse coalition that is necessary to beat Donald Trump.”

Booker returned again and again to Harris, whose campaign had collapsed in Iowa, but who had been drawing bigger crowds, more endorsements, and more volunteers than the wealthy candidates who’d plunged into the race.

“She had this campaign that spoke to the aspirations of our country,” Booker said. “Here is a black woman, an Asian woman who broke barriers at every point of her campaign, and won in our largest state: 40-plus million people. She’s lived her whole life dedicated to public service. I get to sit with her in the Judiciary Committee, I see who she is and I just want to say from my heart, it is a problem when an immensely qualified, widely supported, truly accomplished black woman running to lead the party, a party that is significantly empowered by black women voters, didn’t have the resources that she needed to continue here to Iowa.”

It was a dramatic moment for Booker, who had been making this case again and again in the hours since Harris’s campaign ended. Harris had qualified for the December debate, making her an inconvenient martyr for this cause. But her exit gave new urgency to an argument former HUD secretary Julián Castro had been making when he missed the November debate: The party was silencing several credible nonwhite candidates.

That argument has helped Castro, who has no path back to the stage under current rules, raise hundreds of thousands of dollars, keeping his low-overhead campaign afloat. It has found a guilty conscience in Tom Steyer, the billionaire whose omnipresent TV ads have helped him qualify for the debates.

“I’m calling on the DNC to open up the debate requirements for January so that more candidates can participate,” Steyer said in a statement. “In order to defeat Donald Trump, Democrats need to engage voters from every part of the country, and that means making sure voters hear from a diverse group of candidates before they select our nominee.”

Steyer was pushing on an open door; DNC Chairman Tom Perez told The Post last month that the DNC would revisit its debate rules in January. In a statement, DNC spokeswoman Xochitl Hinojosa said that the party had created “the most inclusive debate process with more women and candidates of color participating in more debates than billionaires,” and that Democrats were “proud of this historic and diverse field,” as showcased in most of the debates so far.

“While we are legally required to have objective criteria for each debate, our qualifying criteria has stayed extremely low throughout this entire process,” Hinojosa said. “Nobody who has failed to reach 4 percent at this point in the race has gone on to be the nominee, and our debate criteria reflects that. In addition, we have made diversity a priority by requiring that every debate have women and people of color as moderators. We’ve never seen a political party take this many steps to be inclusive.”

2020 Election: IMPEACHMENT WATCH

The latest on the impeachment inquiry: 

2020 Election: AD WATCH

Joe Biden, “Laughed At.” A pool camera covering a Buckingham Palace reception for NATO members captured Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau making fun of President Trump. Within 24 hours, Biden’s campaign put it into an ad that focuses on the theme of his recent campaign spots: that Trump is embarrassing the country and the former vice president could restore its image. Three of Biden’s last four commercials hit the same notes (and even the same imagery, of Biden walking alongside Trudeau and Germany’s Angela Merkel), but this one went viral quickly, helped by audio clips of TV hosts discussing how little respect Trump commanded.

Elizabeth Warren, “Wealth Tax.” The senator from Massachusetts has spent less on TV than anyone else polling in double digits, and her campaign plunked down less than $1,000 to run this spot, in conjunction with her Bloomberg TV interview. It’s her second time with this gimmick; previously, she bought time on CNBC to highlight criticism of the wealth tax from some of the network’s wealthy guests.

Tom Steyer, “Save the World, Do It Together.” The billionaire candidate’s march through early-state TV screens continues with a first: a subtle argument with another candidate. In the spot, Steyer asks a rhetorical question: “How are we going to pull this country together?” He answers it by talking about climate change. “We take on the biggest challenge in history, we save the world and do it together. You think that’d pull America together? I do.” It’s a response to the message that has done well for Buttigieg recently, that the post-Trump president’s first job will be reuniting Americans, something he doesn’t tie to a particular issue.

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2020 Election: POLL WATCH

2020 Election:

Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks at a Democratic presidential forum on Latino issues in Los Angeles on Nov. 17. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

California Democratic primary (UC Berkeley, 1,694 California voters)

Bernie Sanders: 24% ( 5)

Elizabeth Warren: 22% (-7)

Joe Biden: 14% (-6)

Pete Buttigieg: 12% ( 6)

Kamala Harris: 7% (-1)

Andrew Yang: 3% ( 1) 

Amy Klobuchar: 3% ( 1) 

Mike Bloomberg: 2% ( 2)

This may be the final poll to offer Kamala Harris’s name for voters, and a sub-question found that 61 percent of California Democrats thought she should leave the race. It’s also Sanders’s first good poll in the state for some time, though Harris’s departure ameliorates the bad news for Warren: She was the most popular second choice for voters who had been sticking with the race’s second-highest-profile female candidate. And she’s in a better position than Biden, who trails Sanders with Latino voters and gets pummeled with young voters: By a landslide, voters under 30 stick with Sanders. Biden’s strength with nonwhite Democrats, the basis of his lead in Southern primaries, is harder to find in delegate-rich California.

2020 Election: IN THE STATES

Florida. Andrew Gillum, last year’s unsuccessful Democratic nominee for governor, will become the chairman of iVote‘s board, following a year of voting rights advocacy and voter registration campaigns in his home state.

Georgia. Five-term Rep. Tom Graves will retire next year, a surprise for Republicans who saw a long future for their 49-year-old colleague. Graves’s 14th District, which covered northwest Georgia, is safely Republican and backed the president by 53 points in 2016.

Washington. Four-term Rep. Denny Heck is leaving his relatively safe Democratic seat around Tacoma, explaining in a letter that the Republican response to the Trump presidency had wearied him: “Will never understand how some of my colleagues, in many ways good people, could ignore or deny the president’s unrelenting attack on a free press, his vicious character assassination of anyone who disagreed with him, and his demonstrably very distant relationship with the truth.” Trump lost Heck’s 10th Congressional District by 13 points, making it a reach for Republicans in a state Democrats expect to easily win.

2020 Election: 2020

Joe Biden. He got one of the biggest endorsements in the Democratic Party on Thursday, with former secretary of state and 2004 presidential nominee John Kerry getting behind his campaign. Kerry, who’s three years younger than Biden, had been fitfully discussed as a 2020 candidate but made no moves toward a run. He’ll campaign with the former vice president this weekend in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Pete Buttigieg. He won endorsements from three lower-profile members of the Obama team: the president’s personal aide Reggie Love, former Council of Economic Advisers chairman Austan Goolsbee, and former White House Office of Health Reform communications director Linda Douglass.

Bernie Sanders. He picked up the support of the Iowa CCI Action Fund, a liberal group in the state that had supported him in 2016 and worked with him in his campaigns.

Mike Bloomberg. In Aurora, Colo., the site of a 2013 mass shooting, he proposed a new gun control system that would include not just background checks but federal licensing, a bugaboo of gun rights activists.

Cory Booker. United We Win, the new super PAC that had bought an ad contrasting Booker with Buttigieg, announced $500,000 in new spending designed to help him enter the December debate. One example: a bus ad showing Booker next to Bloomberg and Steyer, with the legend, “We need diversity, not more billionaires.”

2020 Election: MEET A PAC

THE PAC: 1820 PAC

PARTY:  Republican

FOCUS:  Providing air cover for Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, running ads that pitch her as a moderate who the Senate could not afford to lose.

BUDGET: It has paid for $400,000 of ads so far, and as of summer, it had raised $776,000 from wealthy donors, most of it from Blackstone Group chief executive Stephen Schwartzman.

PLAN: The group’s first ad emphasizes ways in which Collins has broke with Republicans and the Trump administration. “When the big drug companies were gouging patients, Susan took them on and wrote a law to lower drug prices,” a narrator says. “When extremists in both parties shut down the government, Susan Collins led the bipartisan effort to end the stalemate.”

EFFECTIVENESS: It’s on brand for Collins, whose campaign, like others that have expected super PACs to help them, had already uploaded b-roll footage for curious ad-makers. (Campaigns cannot coordinate with super PACs, but nothing prevents them releasing a few soundless clips of candidates meeting voters in factories.) 

2020 Election: WHAT I’M WATCHING

NARAL’s big 2020 bet. The abortion rights group is planning its biggest-ever political investment next year, spending $34.7 million to turn out 3.6 million voters in eight states: Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota and North Carolina.

“We think abortion is central to the election, and it should be central,” said NARAL President Ilyse Hogue. “It’s an issue Democrats can and do win on. The energy of the base on this is off the charts, because of the abortion bans we’ve seen in the states.”

NARAL’s target states include a few of the Democrats’ must-wins in the electoral college and a few the group sees as crucial for Senate math: Georgia and Iowa. (There are Senate races in all eight states, and Michigan and Minnesota have Democratic incumbents.)

The focus of the campaign, a combination of ads and organizing, will be “reminding people of what their senator has done and what Trump has led,” said Hogue. That included the “extraordinary overreach of judges,” the appointment of antiabortion judges who most of the targeted senators voted for (Collins was an occasional exception), and the passage or introduction of “dangerous medically inaccurate legislation” in the states.

That messaging, Hogue said, would activate three kinds of voters: the Democrats’ base, lower-propensity voters who lean toward Democrats (and sat out some recent elections), and “soft partisan” women who’ve voted Republican before but bolted the party over abortion rights. Virginia, where Republicans tried and failed to turn legislation to loosen abortion restrictions into an election issue this year, was the proof of concept.

Hogue, who helped amend the Democrats’ 2016 platform to make it more supportive of abortion rights, said that NARAL had advantages that didn’t exist then.

“We were warning people that Trump said women should be punished for abortion, and that he’d appoint only pro-life judges,” Hogue said. “But there was a combination of people saying, ‘Oh, he only says that to be elected,’ and ‘Oh, and that could never happen here.’ That’s what’s been so shocking with these state laws, and that’s why they’re central to the campaign.”

2020 Election: COUNTDOWN

… seven days until the qualifying deadline for the sixth Democratic debate

… nine days until runoff elections in Houston

… 14 days until the sixth Democratic debate

… 60 days until the Iowa caucuses

… 68 days until the New Hampshire primary