As Mayor Pete Buttigieg kickstarts his campaign to win over African-American voters who are skeptical of his spotty track record on issues of concern to black communities—or who are entirely unfamiliar with him at all—the millennial mayor is returning to one of the touchstones of his early campaign: his faith.
“It's not for nothing that a lot of my experiences even back home addressing black voters, specifically, is in church,” Buttigieg recently told reporters aboard his campaign bus in New Hampshire, in response to a question about what “clicks” with African-American audiences. “Knowing how important an organizing principle faith is in so many black families, in so many parts of the black community.”
Buttigieg, more than any other candidate seeking the Democratic nomination, has emphasized his identity as a Christian as part of his appeal to voters who, at first glance, might not feel like they have a lot in common with the white millennial mayor from the Midwest. In a series of appearances in front of predominantly black audiences across the American South this week, Buttigieg frequently leaned into his Episcopalian faith as a way to connect with black voters who have been, until recently, an afterthought for his campaign.
“I believe that I am here to make myself useful—that I am part of this political process to make myself useful, but also that I was put on this Earth in order to make myself useful to others,” Buttigieg told a largely black congregation during Sunday services at Greenleaf Christian Church in Goldsboro, North Carolina. “These are the values that I was taught by my parents. These are the values that I’m taught by my faith.”
The appearance at Greenleaf, which was founded by formerly enslaved people and has served as a hub for civil rights activism under the Rev. William J. Barber II, kicked off a week of events, policy launches and advertising spots intended to boost his support among non-white voters. The next day, Buttigieg held a meet-and-greet in Allendale, South Carolina, a town where three-quarters of residents are black and which hasn’t seen a Democratic candidate for president since John Edwards campaigned there in 2008.
Allendale Democratic Party Chair Willa Jennings began the event with a question about his lack of support among black voters.
“I hear a lot about how you don’t have support from African-Americans… I just want to know why they’re saying that about you,” Jennings asked in front of the 50-person audience, much smaller in size than Buttigieg’s recent rallies in Iowa and New Hampshire. Buttigieg responded that while it’s important for him to earn the support of black voters, he’s “new on the scene,” and doesn’t expect communities that have been “taken for granted” by other Democratic candidates to grant him their trust so easily.