Buttigieg Campaign Admits Exaggerating Black Actor's Support in Embarrassing Error


If you’re a political candidate who has issues with the black community, here’s one way not to fix it: Pretend a black actor who just helped you during a voting drive is actually supporting your candidacy.

That’s the latest of former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s missteps in finding nearly anyone of color who’ll come out and support him for president, something that’s going to become a major issue as the primary season heads to less lily-white environs.

Buttigieg leads the delegate count coming out of Iowa and New Hampshire, slightly ahead of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. That’s wholly worthless, however, since he has almost no chance of competing in the states that are next up on the docket, Nevada and South Carolina.

Then comes Super Tuesday, where a Cinderella Buttigieg campaign could see the clock strike midnight.

Part of the problem — well, quite frankly, almost all of the problem — is Buttigieg’s lack of minority support.

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According to ABC News, Mayor Pete polls at 4 percent among African-Americans; the only major candidate with lower black support is Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar with under 1 percent.

Buttigieg’s campaign is scrambling to find a way to increase that number. One of its strategies seems to be exaggerating — if not just outright lying — about the extent of support they’re getting from black figures and establishments.

That overambitious plan met with an epic fail this week when the campaign announced black actor and comedian Keegan-Michael Key — best known as the half of “Key and Peele” that didn’t direct “Get Out” or “Us” — was set to endorse the candidate in Nevada.

“With his extraordinarily diverse skill set and wide-ranging talent in both comedy and drama; Emmy and Peabody Award-winning writer, actor, and producer Keegan-Michael Key is one of Hollywood’s most in-demand forces,” the Buttigieg campaign told CNN.

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As it turns out, Key was just appearing with Buttigieg to encourage early voting and voter registration — which is slightly different in the same way that getting Andrea Moda to be your prom date is slightly different from asking Andrea Moda whether or not you could borrow her notes from physics.

It’s a mix-up that could happen to anybody.

For what it’s worth, they quickly backtracked.

“Keegan-Michael Key will be attending events this weekend, including Pete’s rally tomorrow, to encourage early voting and voter registration across the state in advance of the Nevada caucuses,” Buttigieg spokesman Chris Meagher said in a statement.

“Pete’s campaign is excited for the voter registration support Mr. Key brings, although Keegan-Michael has not officially endorsed any candidate.”

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And if he does, I’m pretty sure it won’t be Buttigieg.

Way to ruin the opportunity to get some good media attention by showing Mayor Pete in the vicinity of a person of color who actually wants to be there.

You know, like the black people who were allegedly corralled into standing behind Buttigieg during his strange Iowa victory speech didn’t want to be there.

As the media is wont to do in situations like this, they looked into whether the Key “endorsement” was an isolated incident of Buttigieg exaggerating its support from the black community.

Lo and behold, it wasn’t.

ABC News found several instances where “the Buttigieg campaign identified people as supporters who later said their interactions had either been misunderstood or misconstrued.”

Back in October, the Buttigieg campaign identified South Carolina state Rep. Ivory Thigpen and Johnnie Cordero, chairman of the Democratic Black Caucus of South Carolina, as supporters of the candidate’s “Douglass Plan for Black America.”

Both were prominent political figures. Either one endorsing the plan would have been a major shot in the arm.

Neither actually did.

“I never endorsed the Douglass Plan and it’s not necessarily that it was a bad plan, but people have got to understand, you can’t talk for black people, we’re very capable of speaking for ourselves,” Cordero said.

It wasn’t just black political figures who got this kind of treatment from the Buttigieg campaign. Restaurants could also find themselves as pawns in the Buttigieg campaign’s attempt to look multicultural.

According to ABC News, “Buttigieg wrote an op-ed in a major South Carolina newspaper saying his campaign has ’proudly partnered with local businesses,’ citing Diane’s Kitchen in Chester and Atlantis Restaurant in Moncks Corner.

“But when ABC News reached out to the entrepreneurs about these new partnerships, they only remembered welcoming Buttigieg’s campaign as customers, not forging any sort of partnership with the candidate.”

The Op-Ed, published in the Columbia newspaper The State, touted the Buttigieg campaign’s plans for black entrepreneurship.

It noted that Buttigieg “has put forward the Frederick Douglass Plan, a comprehensive investment in the empowerment of Black America. Developed with the leadership and input of black civil rights activists, advocates, business leaders and the Douglass family itself, our plan will complement any future reparations while reshaping our policies on everything from access to housing to access to the ballot.”

The restaurants were supposed to be examples of this in some vague, unspecified way.

They didn’t seem to have been notified of this, at least in the case of Diane’s Kitchen.

“I stand for what I stand for and I didn’t say I had a partnership,” Diane Cole, owner of the restaurant, told ABC.

After ABC News contacted them about the statement, the campaign tried to convince Cole that she really was a partner, at least in the way the Op-Ed stated.

One of their emails managed to misspell her name, just in case they needed to make things worse.

Cole’s response was sub-zero cold: “It sounds like you’re saying that I am your business partner. I’m only going to accept that you all stopped in while you were campaigning in South Carolina and I welcomed you all.” Dang.

I’m still kind of confused how they didn’t think this would blow up in their faces, but there you go.

Basically, by trying to Shanghai support from figures who didn’t actually support them, what they’re admitting is how much of a deep structural issue this is.

Without black support, there’s no realistic way forward for Buttigieg, no matter how many delegates he got from Iowa and New Hampshire.

Neither win has made him palatable to voters of color even as their first pick — former Vice President Joe Biden — flounders in the polls.

There aren’t many ways to solve that problem, but there certainly have to be some.

One of them, however, definitely isn’t pretending that Keegan-Michael Key is a supporter.

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C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014.
C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014. Aside from politics, he enjoys spending time with his wife, literature (especially British comic novels and modern Japanese lit), indie rock, coffee, Formula One and football (of both American and world varieties).
Morristown, New Jersey
Catholic University of America
Languages Spoken
English, Spanish
Topics of Expertise
American Politics, World Politics, Culture