While Pete Buttigieg continues to be locked in a close contest battle for the top with Sen. Bernie Sanders in the Iowa caucus, according to the most recent numbers, Democratic frontrunner, former Vice President Joe Biden is making time to let everyone know the former South Bend, Indiana mayor has barely any connection to Black voters.
"I'm saying he hasn't been able to unify the Black community — that's what I'm saying," Biden said in an interview Saturday with ABC News, noting that African American lawmakers in South Bend have endorsed him instead of Buttigieg.
"In order to win...you're going to have to be able to win states like Pennsylvania. You're gonna have to be able to win Florida. To have to be able to win a lot of places that, in fact, have very diverse populations. And so the assertion that he's ready across the board, I don't see it. I haven't seen it yet."
Through his campaign, Buttigieg has struggled to get the backing of the African American community beginning with many questioning his mayoral administration’s handling of the fatal police shooting of a 54-year-old Black man last summer, which led to a meeting with local Black Lives Matter representatives who reported being dissatisfied with the result. That, paired with declining diversity in South Bend’s police force, left him with an uphill climb in the eyes of Black voters.
"I could walk you through all of the things that we have done as a community, all of the steps that we took, from bias training to de-escalation, but it didn't save the life of Eric Logan," he admitted during a Miami Democratic debate last year. "And when I look into his mother's eyes, I have to face the fact that nothing that I say will bring him back."
Black staffers on Buttigieg’s campaign have also been reportedly frustrated. The New York Times claims Black and Latinx staffers have said they have felt their concerns were not listened to, and that some felt they were only employed to help the campaign make certain diversity goals.
Further, a January Washington Post/Ipsos poll shows Buttigieg with only 2 percent Black support, compared to Biden’s 48 percent.
Nonetheless, Biden has come in well behind Buttigieg and Sanders in the Iowa caucus with only about 15.8 percent of the total state delegates. Even still, he maintains that his support among Blacks will redeem his Iowa performance and his expected low performance in the New Hampshire primary on Tuesday.
"No one who has come in below second in Iowa and New Hampshire has ever won the nomination," said ABC News “This Week” host George Stephanopoulos.
"No one has ever won the nomination without being able to get overwhelming support from the African-American community either," Biden responded "So far, no one's doing that but me."
Biden’s identity with the African American community is largely powered by his association with former President Barack Obama, with whom he served for eight years. But Louisiana Rep. Cedric Richmond, who is co-chair of Biden’s campaign, told NPR that isn’t the only reason why.
“I think it's his body of work and the fact that they see in him exactly what President Obama saw in him when he decided to canvass the entire Senate,” said Richmond, a recent chair of the Congressional Black Caucus.
“Many of [the] senators who are in the race now were there — and he decided to offer the vice presidency to Joe Biden because of his body of work, from his involvement in the civil rights movement, the fact that he left a law firm to join the public defender's office, the fact that he is steady, and he is consistent.”
As we head into the South Carolina primary on Feb. 29, a number of the candidates will likely switch their focus to Black voters. The electorate in that state is two thirds Black and can ultimately determine how the Democratic candidates will fare with African Americans going forward. With that said, Biden doesn’t necessarily have the state on lock.
For example Columbia, S.C., lawyer and Richland city council chair Dalhi Myers, decided to support Sanders over Biden, saying she doesn’t have the faith in his ability to win that others have.
“What’s best for all of us is electrifying enough people ... who will go to the polls,” Myers, who is African American, told the Associated Press.
“I don’t think honestly that Joe Biden can electrify the 400,000 African Americans in the state of South Carolina.”
For his part, though, Buttigieg is apparently still trying to figure out his South Carolina game plan. According to Columbia newspaperThe State, Buttigieg has never held more than single digit polling numbers among Black voters, leaving him to play catch up to the other Democratic candidates. He says, though, it’s a question of name recognition.
“I get that this is an ongoing process of earning trust, and I get that as a new guy I don’t have decades worth of experience for folks around the country to get to know me, right?” he said in an interview with Charlamagne tha God, host of the syndicated radio show “The Breakfast Club,” according to The State.
Photo Credits: Justin Sullivan, Win McNamee/Getty Images