Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden sent a message Friday to Mayor Pete Buttigieg with three endorsements from black Indiana leaders, including one from the South Bend mayor’s hometown.
The moves underscore the 37-year-old mayor’s trouble connecting with black voters even as he’s surged to the top of polls in the first-caucus state of overwhelmingly white Iowa. For the Biden campaign, they emphasize the 77-year-old former vice president’s strength among black Democrats, despite his otherwise uneven campaign that leaves some establishment party figures, particularly wealthy, white donors, nervous about his long-term prospects.
Biden’s new endorsers are South Bend Council officer Oliver Davis Jr. and two state representatives from metro Indianapolis.
“When the political winds are fiercely blowing across our country, it’s important for us to have an experienced leader who has been through the diverse storms of life to guide our country,” Davis said in a statement explaining why he’s behind Biden.
Davis has found himself opposite Buttigieg before. He ran to succeed the mayor but finished fifth in a Democratic primary won by James Mueller, Buttigieg’s chief of staff. Mueller went on to win the Nov. 5 general election and will take office in January.
Buttigieg’s presidential campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The rockiest turns of Buttigieg’s unlikely presidential campaign have involved black voters.
He spent Thursday defending himself against presidential rival Kamala Harris, the lone black woman in the race, who’d called the mayor “naive” for remarks connecting his experience as a gay man in America to the racism that black Americans have endured for centuries. Buttigieg pushed back, explaining that he wasn’t equating the discrimination of the LGBTQ and minority communities. Rather, he said he was speaking up for one discriminated class because he empathizes as a member of another.
Buttigieg unveiled a “Douglass Plan” that includes a range of policy ideas to accelerate economic opportunity, social justice and political equality for black Americans. But he faced withering criticism after his campaign released a list of the plan’s endorsers that included some individuals who didn’t sign on as backers.
In June, he faced angry South Bend constituents after a white police officer fatally shot a black man in South Bend.
In Democratic presidential debates, Buttigieg has described his city and the country as suffering from deep racial fissures, and he’s acknowledged shortcomings as mayor.
Biden, for all his political strength in the black community, hasn’t gone without criticism either, with his aides acknowledging a generational gap in his black support. Some young minority activists have pointed especially at the 1994 crime bill that he sponsored as a Delaware senator.
The measure included federal money for new police officers across the country and a 10-year ban on certain military-style weapons, but also sentencing measures and prison funding that critics denounce as an accelerant of mass incarceration, especially of young black men.
Biden does not apologize for the law, noting its support from most black congressional leaders and big-city mayors at the time. But he acknowledges some provisions have proved ill-advised.
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This story has been corrected to show that the endorsements came Friday, not Thursday.