As Pete Buttigieg Courts Black Voters, His Sexuality Is a Hurdle for Some

But in the sea of supporters, there were very few black faces.

“I think we’ve got our work cut out for us and we know what we have to do,” Mr. Buttigieg said afterward. “I think the majority of black voters here have no opinion of me at all, which means we’ve got to make sure that we get not just our message but my face out there, and that’ll continue to drive our strategy.”

The Buttigieg campaign was understaffed in South Carolina when it held its black focus groups over the summer. Today it has four field offices, 34 staff members and a black state director. The Monmouth poll last week showed 51 percent of likely South Carolina primary voters had no opinion of Mr. Buttigieg or hadn’t heard of him, suggesting room to grow his support.

Bakari Sellers, a former South Carolina state representative, pushed back on the notion that African Americans are less accepting of gay equality than other people.

“I don’t believe black voters are more homophobic than any other group, and I hate that narrative,” said Mr. Sellers, who is black.

He said Mr. Buttigieg’s struggles to win black support were explained by his lack of prominent African-American endorsements and the fact he has engaged black voters superficially, like many white candidates do. “Nobody at the barbershop” knows who Mr. Buttigieg is, he said. “You’ve got to get out in these communities, have some connection with this struggle and why we just won’t throw our votes away.”

Polling suggests there are differences between how blacks and whites view homosexuality.

While support for same-sex marriage has grown broadly among all Americans over the past 15 years, black support, at 51 percent, lags the 62 percent of whites who support gay marriage, according to Pew.

The divisions are deeper when church affiliation and race are factored in. Nationally, fewer than five in 10 black Protestants support same-sex marriage, compared with roughly two-thirds of white mainline Protestants and white Catholics, according to a 2018 survey by the Public Religion Research Institute.

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