Buttigieg comes to Colorado’s most diverse city, draws mostly white crowd

‘I think there are a lot of black people who are on the fence.’

Democratic presidential candidate and former mayor of South Bend, Indiana Pete Buttigieg speaks to thousands of supporters at Crowne Plaza Convention Center in Aurora late Saturday night on Feb. 22, 2020. (Photo by Evan Semón)

On Saturday, Pete Buttigieg left Las Vegas, Nevada, where he came in third in the Democratic caucus, and flew to Colorado for a rally at the Crowne Plaza Denver Airport Convention Center in Aurora. He now turns his attention to South Carolina, the next state in the primary where support among black voters will be key to winning. 

But if Saturday’s late-night rally in Colorado’s most diverse city is any indication, the former mayor from South Bend, Indiana still has work to do to win over black voters. In a crowd of thousands of people, most of them white, many African American voters interviewed said they were still unsure about Mayor Pete. 

“I want to see him do something. I want to see him in the community engaging with people — and not so much being a mouthpiece,” said Saundra Robinson, a 65-year-old from Denver, who says her 25-year-old nephew died from gun violence. “My patience is wearing thin. The invitation said 8:30. It’s 9:02. That’s strike one.” 

Buttigieg’s biography appeals to a wide range of voters. Young people at the rally said they like him because he’s a liberal that their more moderate parents might like. They like that he’s a former Navy Reserve intelligence officer calling for an end to endless wars as in Afghanistan, where he was deployed in 2014. They like that he brings his husband, Chasten, whom he married in the Episcopal Cathedral of St. James in South Bend, on stage and talks about religion and God. 

During a question-and-answer period of the rally, 9-year-old Zachary Ro’s question was pulled from a bowl reading, “Thank you for being so brave. … Would you help me tell the world I’m gay, too?” Buttigieg’s team invited Ro on stage and, in front of thousands of people and television cameras, Buttigieg said, “I don’t think you need a lot of advice from me on bravery.” Buttigieg came out much later in life when he was 29 years old and running for his second term as mayor.

When it comes to his appeal among people of color, the picture is more complicated. 

Some Latinos in the audience praised Buttigieg for his multilingualism. When he called for protecting Dreamers and ending family separations at the U.S. border with Mexico, people started chanting “sí se puede.” 

“He actually knows the president of Mexico’s name,” said Nathaniel Ramos, a 33-year-old from Commerce City. That, in addition to his fluency in various languages, Ramos said, “shows that he has an intellectual curiosity.” 

Buttigieg’s team invited 9-year-old Zachary Ro on stage after he asked for help coming out as gay. (Photo by Evan Semón)

African Americans at the rally were less enthusiastic. They worried about Buttigieg’s record, having fired South Bend’s first black police chief and overseeing the city when black people were being arrested at disproportionately high rates for marijuana possession. He’s polling around 4% among African Americans.

Rey Cole, Marcus Robinson and Jamila Mantwi, who were among the handful of African Americans in the crowd, said they wanted to hear him acknowledge his record or speak to issues they care about, specifically gun violence. 

“Here’s your chance to woo me,” said Cole, 47, who is from Aurora. He said his fiancee, Amy Cammack, invited him. “I think there are a lot of black people who are on the fence. Look at the crowd.” 

Robinson, 64, who is from Denver, said he’s still undecided. He said he watched a handful of people of color drop out of the Democratic primary, among them Sens. Kamala Harris of California and Cory Booker of New Jersey and entrepreneur Andrew Yang. Among those left on the mostly white slate, he said he likes the liberal billionaire Tom Steyer for his stance on climate change. But he said he’s not enthusiastic. “No one is speaking to me right now,” he said. 

“There’s six of us here. Maybe eight. That doesn’t bode well for us,” he said. “Here, it doesn’t feel good. And this music is killing me.” 

“I think it’s just a matter of tapping into the community roots,” said Mantwi, 38, who is from Denver and who came to the rally to support Buttigieg. She said she wanted to hear him talk about discrimination in the workplace and gun violence. 

Thousands gather at the Crowne Plaza Convention Center late Saturday night to see Democratic presidential candidate and former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Pete Buttigieg. (Photo by Evan Semón)

During his speech, Buttigieg spoke generally about many of these issues. He said most Americans want to ensure that one’s race has no bearing on health, wealth, education or relationship to law enforcement. He mentioned the STEM school shooting, saying the Second Amendment should not be used to block action on gun violence. He touched on the issue of racial and economic inequality, mentioning his Douglass Plan, named after the black social reformer Frederick Douglass. That plan includes a range of criminal justice and public health reforms, including legalizing marijuana and abolishing private federal prisons. 

“This is the first time I’ve heard of the Frederick Douglass initiative,” Robinson said after the rally, standing at the edge of the crowd. He said the plan gives his community something to grab on to. But it’s still not enough. 

“You’ve got to walk the walk in the community to get a vote,” he said. 

Robinson mentioned the former mayor of Denver Wellington Webb. “Wellington had boots on the ground and Wellington was walking. If Mayor Pete did the same thing here in the city, if he walked all of our communities, I think it’d be different.” Webb is endorsing the former mayor of New York Mike Bloomberg.

Buttigieg’s visit came on the heels of Bernie Sanders’s and Amy Klobuchar’s and preceded Elizabeth Warren’s, who will be in Denver on Sunday. By Sunday, Buttigieg was on the move again and headed to Virginia, according to a spokesperson with the campaign. Then off to South Carolina.

7 COMMENTS

  1. Pete made a good run, but it’s over. He had to make his case as the contender going into South Carolina, where he is going to get thoroughly demolished, finishing as low as fourth in all reality.

    He clearly hasn’t made the case as we look at Nevada, but he did well enough for a shot at an administration post, but not VP.

    I’m still wondering how things get divided up. Bernie gets Warren’s folks, clearly. Biden and Pete’s votes go where? Bloomberg is not trending well. Are they going to pout and stay home like Bernie’s peeps did in ’16?

  2. I disagree Jay.

    Buttigieg has the most delegates of the moderate dems. Biden is in fifth in the delegate count. Klobuchar is deep in back of pack and she has no pathway to the nomination.

    Bloomberg played the first debate to his favor he had them give him a spanking and got nothing from it. Warren went hard at Bloomberg didn’t have an impact on her position in Nevada. Bloomberg now will give a mediocre debate performance in SC that will be hailed as amazing because he set the bar so low.

    If the game is bringing it to the convention Buttigieg has a pathway to nit together a delegate count based on an equality coalition.
    Or Bloomberg/Buttigieg – America Needs A Mayor – We’ve Got Two

    • I sure could be wrong about Pete and South Carolina, but I don’t think his homosexuality polls well in the South, quite frankly. It’s a shameful circumstance borne of religious bigotry that won’t always be a factor, but unfortunately for Pete, a gay President is still a tough sell in The Bible Belt.

      • How many of those states vote Democrat in the electoral college? Those are baked in gay or not your not going to turn Alabama blue. South Carolina may vote for Biden who’s currently last in delegate count. SC delegates are awarded proportionally so if the polls are correct Biden would earn enough delegates to be third behind Buttigieg and Sanders.

        My point is at this juncture in the primary cutting out the second largest delegate holder because he can’t win in states every Democrat will lose is an odd justification

  3. You make a solid point, but it’s not just the South. Besides Florida, think Ohio, Penn, Michigan. Unfortunately there are large “unwoke” religious populations there that don’t mirror the demos on the coasts.

    • Perhaps… Though I kinda think America by in large is over homosexuality with polling at 67% approving of gay marriage. But how many of those homophobic voters were going to vote for any Democrat. It’s the same reason I never bought the case against Joe Lieberman because I just don’t see a whole heck of a lot of independent anti-Semitic voters out there.

  4. I admire your optimism about the waning effects of religious-based bigotry on the electorate, even if I don’t wholly share the sentiment.

    Lieberman didn’t make it because unlike the vast majority of American Jews, he supports Israeli apartheid with respect to the Palestinians. I notice that the terms anti-Semitic and anti-apartheid are sometimes conveniently and erroneously confused for one another.

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