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Pete Buttigieg Has A Major Problem Courting Latino Voters And Keeps Making It Worse

Pete Buttigieg has a major problem on his hands. The relatively unknown mayor of South Bend, Indiana has made a splash on the national political scene in recent weeks but that has come at the cost of alienating one major demographic group: Latinos. 

While it’s been well documented about his struggles to connect with voters of color, specifically Black voters, Latino outreach from his campaign has largely been non-existent. Buttigieg is polling well when it comes to white voters, 42 percent, but things drop off drastically when it comes to Latinos as he has drawn a meager 5 percent in a recent Morning Consult poll.

This is important to note considering Latinos are on track to be the second-largest voting demographic in the 2020 election, 32 million are expected to be eligible to vote. So how does Buttigieg expect to connect with other voters that aren’t white? This should be the big question that his campaign team should be discussing if there is any chance of winning primaries in Nevada and in California, two largely Latino states. 

Buttigieg struggling to connect with Latino voters is an issue that should be receiving attention if he expects to win the Democratic nomination. 

Buttigieg’s struggles with Latino voters can be rooted back to some problematic instances. Recently, a 2011 TV interview clip with Buttigieg, then a candidate for the South Bend mayor, resurfaced on social media. In the video, Buttigieg says “a lot of kids” from “low income, minority neighborhoods” did not personally know a role model “who testifies to the value of education.” 

The clip ignited a firestorm of criticism on social media including having “Pete Buttigieg is a Lying MF” to trend on Twitter. Estuardo Rodriguez, a co-founder of The Raben Group public affairs firm, told Newsweek that this mishap is a perfect example of that disconnect that the mayor has with minority communities. 

 “This video goes to the root of why there may be a lack of interest in Mayor Pete from Black and Latino voters. His remarks in the video oversimplify the challenges some communities face,” Rodriguez said. 

Back in June, Buttigieg found himself is another heated moment when he visited an immigrant detention facility for children. He was met with protesters who shouted at him because he didn’t bother to climb ladders erected by the facility’s fence in order to see the children detained on the other side. Buttigieg was notably the only Democratic candidate that day that visited the facility who didn’t climb the ladder. 

When it comes to outreach, Buttigieg has also missed the mark with Latinos. He spent the majority of his time during his California campaign stop back in May at fundraisers rather than talking with Latino activists at the state’s Democratic Party’s convention.

“I could tell you some things that I know about him, but I don’t know what he’s saying he’ll do as president,” Miguel Cordova, who was at the California convention, told Buzzfeed. “It’s so easy for some people to jump in the race and all the sudden be considered a top contender, while someone like [Julian] Castro has been doing stuff and it’s like he’s not even polling as well [as Buttigieg].”

Buttigieg’s campaign is banking on winning primaries in Iowa and New Hampshire and use that energy to carry him forward. However, it may not be that easy, especially if he wants to win the Latino vote along the way. 

Josh Ulibarri, a Democratic pollster who has focused primarily on Latino voters, says that the reason there is a certain “disconnect “when it comes to Latinos and Buttigieg is simply a lack of familiarity. Compared to other candidates who are polling well with Latinos, like Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, Ulibarri says that Buttigieg hasn’t connected with them mainly due to being unaware of what he stands for policy-wise.

“Him being stuck in the single digits is the big evidence here and for Latinos so far, it’s been all mostly Bernie and Biden,” Ulibarri said. “They have a lot of name recognition as they’ve known both candidates for years now. Pete is new and is a relative unknown to many Latinos when it comes to issues and familiarity. That matters.”

Buttigieg has acknowledged where he’s fallen short when it comes to outreach with communities of color and has vowed to improve on that. But the question of when and how is what concerns some voters that have seen Democratic candidates bank on Latino and Black votes later in the election cycle, instead of from the start. This is an issue that Julian Castro raised last month when discussing why some of the first primary elections are held in mostly white states like Iowa and New Hampshire. 

“It’s frustrating that this party has banked on the Latino vote instead on working for it all year,” Ulibarri said. “Voters say if he’s gonna come to our people, he’s coming too late in the election cycle once again.”

Adding insult to injury to Latino voters, Buttigieg recently accepted a donation to his campaign from McKinsey and Company.

Credit: @DJJudd / Twitter

McKinsey and Company, a management organization that does business with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), recently announced a plan to cut funding for food and supervision. The decision on the funding is putting detainees at risk and Buttigieg has received $55,000 in donations from McKinsey and Company alums. When asked if he would return the donations, which some have called for, Buttigieg avoided the question leaving some thinking he is okay with the support of the organization he once worked for.

While there has been some outreach, Mayor Pete has a long way to go to make himself a serious contender for Latinos in the 2020 election cycle.

Buttigieg isn’t going to win Latino voters over with his centrist policies or his young fresh voice in the Democratic party, it’s going to have to be through getting to know him. Whether he gets that opportunity is still unknown but he understands the tall task ahead.  

“We’ve got to reach out in communities that haven’t had a chance to get to know me,” Buttigieg during an MSNBC town hall forum back in June. “If you are neither already famous with a long track record in national politics, nor yourself from a community of color, then, of course, it’s going to take longer for people to come to know and trust you.”

His campaign manager, Mike Schmuhl, told Politico that the campaign needs to “level up and expand” its outreach when it comes to Latinos.  He expects that the campaign will air bilingual ads in Nevada, the first primary after Iowa and New Hampshire, in “the very near future”. That will be followed by a “holistic” policy proposal that will be centered on Latinos in the next month.

“We will continue to ramp up our investments — that’s in paid media, in people on the ground, in Pete’s time in the states,” Schmuhl said. “It’s go time, right now.”

Whether it’s name recognition, policy and a questionable track record with minorities, Buttigieg has his work cut out for him, there’s no doubt about it. The question now is if it’s too late. 

“It’s a late start and he if doesn’t have any backing it may not work,” Ulibarri said. “Biden and Sanders have been active from the start and he’ll have some groundwork to make up. Pete hasn’t been here for too long and quite frankly, it shows.”

READ: Pete Buttigieg Faces Backlash After 2011 Video Claiming Minority Children Don’t Know Anyone Who ‘Values Education’ Resurfaces

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