Ascendant in the polls, Mayor Pete Buttigieg took fire in Wednesday’s presidential debate from his Democratic rivals over his experience, his relationship with black voters and his foreign policy.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota used a voter question about ballot-box access to argue that while the South Bend, Ind., mayor may have good ideas about reducing voter disenfranchisement and suppression, she had experience leading congressional legislative efforts to get things done.
“Just like I have won statewide and … you did not when you tried, I also have actually done this work. I think experience should matter,” she said.
Earlier in the night, she reiterated that she thought a woman who had the resume Buttigieg does would not be viewed as qualified to be the Democratic presidential nominee, although she said Buttigieg was qualified.
“Women are held to a higher standard. Otherwise we could play a game called ‘name your favorite woman president,’ which we can’t do,” she said.
A debate moderator also asked Buttigieg whether his experience leading a city, where he was elected mayor with 11,000 votes, gave him the requisite experience to be the nominee.
The 37-year-old responded that while his heartland resume may not be traditional, it was what the party needed to take on President Trump.
“We need somebody who can go toe to toe, who actually comes from the kinds of communities that he’s been appealing to,” Buttigieg said, adding that his military service also gave him experience for making foreign policy decisions.
“I know that from the perspective of Washington, what goes on in my city might look small. But frankly, where we live, the infighting on Capitol Hill is what looks small, the usual way of doing business in Washington is what looks small,” he said.
California Sen. Kamala Harris used a question about Buttigieg’s use of a stock photograph of a Kenyan woman on his campaign website that has since been taken down to slash at Democrats for taking African American voters for granted — except when they need votes.
“For too long I think candidates have taken for granted constituencies that have been the backbone of the Democratic Party,” she said. “At some point, folks get tired of [people] saying, ‘Oh, you know, thank me for showing up,’ and say, ‘will you show up for me?’ Because when black women are three to four times more likely to die in connection with childbirth in America, when the sons of black women will die because of gun violence more than any other cause of death. When black women make 61 cents on the dollar, as compared to all women … making 80 cents on the dollar. The question has to be, ‘Where have you been?’ And ‘What are you going to do?’”
Buttigieg responded that he completely agreed with Harris and that he welcomed “the challenge of connecting with black voters in America who don’t know me.”
He said that while he did not know what it was like to be discriminated against because of the color of his skin, he was deeply shaped by his experience governing a city with racial challenges, his faith and his experience as a gay man in the United States.
“I do have the experience of sometimes feeling like a stranger in my own country, turning on the news and seeing my own rights come up for debate and seeing my rights expanded by a coalition of people like me and people not at all like me working side by side, shoulder to shoulder, making it possible for me to be standing here wearing this wedding ring,” he said.
In one of the odder moments of the night, Buttigieg’s foreign policy was attacked by Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, who suggested he would send American troops to Mexico to fight drug cartels.
“I was talking about U.S.-Mexico cooperation. We’ve been doing security cooperation with Mexico for years,” he said, before asking incredulously: “Do you seriously think anybody on this stage is considering invading Mexico?”
He then countered by questioning Gabbard’s judgment in meeting with Syrian dictator Bashar Assad. Gabbard said Buttigieg lacked the “courage” to meet with adversaries, noting that past American presidents met with global rivals, such as Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Soviet Union’s Josef Stalin. Buttigieg shot back, noting her position was more like Trump meeting with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un.