Political pundits continue to marvel at the showing of South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg as a presidential candidate. He impresses everywhere he goes, raises money and remains a factor in the Democratic race.
In a field of liberals, Buttigieg is less so, looking to lay claim to the moderate mantle also being sought by former Vice President Joe Biden and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobucher.
As some think he is the best politician in the field, Buttigieg was expected to see his stock rise after the most recent Democratic debate. Yet he remains at the top of the second tier of contenders among the swollen field of Democrats.
Media discussion and political analysis point to Buttigieg's lack of experience and youth as factors that prevent him from making a jump into contention, but those observations ignore the history that inexperience and youth have been boosts for Democrats in the past as recently as Barack Obama.
What media report less frequently as a factor is Buttigieg's openly proclaimed homosexuality. In doing so, they could be understating its importance as a factor in his political ceiling.
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Unquestionably, "Mayor Pete," as Buttigieg is known, enjoys support from people unconcerned about his lifestyle. And there, no doubt, are those prone to support him because of it. But there is still a sizable segment of America that will not support him because he is gay – at least in 2019.
The problem is particularly acute for Buttigieg in a state such as South Carolina, where African-Americans make up a majority of the Democratic primary electorate.
Though American views on LGBTQ rights and issues have changed rapidly in the last decade, with 61% of adults supporting same-sex marriage, a Pew Research Center poll found African American support to be 10 points lower at 51%.
Among black voters in South Carolina, an October Fox News poll found Buttigieg’s support at less than 1%. And it was at zero in the September Winthrop Poll.
In a conservative and religious state such as South Carolina, the numbers should not be surprising. Many who oppose homosexuality are religious people.
Mayor Pete may well have a role on the national stage. And he certainly would not be the first homosexual to be in a high post, though many now and before him declined to acknowledge their homosexuality out of political and societal reality.
He is young. Some say his best political years are before him. He may even be a catalyst for Americans – and South Carolinians – to remove homosexuality as a disqualifier for the presidency. But at this time in our history, it’s an obstacle that his candidacy is unlikely to overcome.