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Opinion

The State endorses Pete Buttigieg in the South Carolina Democratic Party primary

 

The Democratic Party’s presidential nominee will face a formidable general election opponent in Republican President Donald Trump, an incumbent armed with a strong economic record and a force of personality that has spawned a fiercely loyal base of supporters.

It is vital, then, for the Democrats to nominate an energetic, disciplined candidate who can offer voters a powerful yet pragmatic vision of a better America. The Democrats need a nominee who seeks to bring Americans together based on broad common ground — and not divide them along narrow interests.

Among the Democratic presidential candidates, former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg is the best person to meet these challenges.

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On Saturday, the voters of South Carolina should choose Buttigieg in the state’s Democratic presidential primary.

An outsider’s appeal

History does not lie.

During the last half-century, the Democratic Party has only won the presidency when it has resisted the temptation to pick status-quo nominees and shown the courage to choose centrist outsiders with fresh, optimistic messages.

Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama prevailed in part because they understood the values of real-world America. All three successfully connected with voters by tapping into the sensibilities of average Americans.

Buttigieg has gained that needed perspective during his eight years leading South Bend, a Midwestern city that had to reinvent itself and cast aside a Rust Belt image. And Buttigieg’s policies also reflect that essential connection to everyday Americans.

On health care, for example, Buttigieg’s “ Medicare for all who want it” plan would offer Americans access to a public option without eliminating the private insurance plans so many citizens now have. In fact, Buttigieg’s proposal could drive down the cost of those plans by promoting competition among private insurers.

That’s preferable to demanding a radical overhaul of our health care system — an unrealistic idea that’s been advanced by politicians who spend most of their time inside the insular Washington bubble. And it exemplifies Buttigieg’s ability to see a crucial issue through the eyes of Americans who simply want practical policies, not upheaval and unknowns.

A message of unity

While Buttigieg is only 38, he has a wide range of relevant experience — he’s a Rhodes Scholar who served as a military intelligence officer in Afghanistan — that has shaped the most compelling theme of his campaign: it is time for America and Americans to embrace unity and reject division.

“We’re in a moment where our country is hurting for experiences we have in common,” Buttigieg told The State.

Buttigieg’s message of unity is an inspiring and empowering one, and it deserves to be supported.

Earning minority support

Clearly the biggest challenge Buttigieg faces as a candidate is developing support among African American voters across South Carolina and the entire country.

Buttigieg did earn the backing of many African Americans as South Bend’s mayor. But he also had a complicated relationship with that city’s African American community, and tensions flared last summer when a black man was fatally shot by a South Bend police officer.

To his credit Buttigieg has openly acknowledged his responsibility to build trust with African American voters. He has made important strides by releasing ambitious proposals aimed at increasing economic prosperity among African Americans, strengthening historically black colleges and universities and implementing extensive criminal justice reforms.

Too often Buttigieg’s critics have ignored his substantive efforts to earn the support of black voters, and Buttigieg’s appeals to African Americans should be judged by this standard: Is his outreach genuine, and is it being undertaken in good faith?

We believe that it is.

Making history

Buttigieg could make history as the first openly gay nominee of a major party, and some wonder whether he could win in a solidly red state such as South Carolina. But why is there such skepticism?

The reality is that Buttigieg’s policy centrism is more important than his personal life. Indeed, Buttigieg put it well when he told The State that the American people understand that the 2020 election “is not about my life — it’s about (their lives). If I have the right answers to how I can make your life better, all of the other stuff fades away.”

He’s right.

At this perilous moment in politics, South Carolina voters should be focused on finding a candidate whose policy proposals are a good fit for the state; by that measure, Buttigieg’s aspirational yet realistic plans are the best match for South Carolina.

The other candidates

Our endorsement comes at the end of a long process that saw The State interview Buttigieg and eight other Democratic presidential candidates: former Vice President Joe Biden, former U.S. housing secretary Julian Castro, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Sen. Cory Booker, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, entrepreneur Andrew Yang, businessman Tom Steyer and former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick.

Castro, Booker, Yang and Patrick have since suspended their campaigns.

During the multiple months of interviewing candidates, The State made repeated attempts to schedule a meeting with Sen. Bernie Sanders. Despite those extensive efforts, Sanders would not agree to participate in an interview.

We were also unsuccessful in our repeated attempts to interview another candidate, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii.

And we did not interview Mike Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York City, because he is not on the South Carolina primary ballot.

Buttigieg gets our nod over Klobuchar and Biden, who were both impressive in their interviews.

Klobuchar did a superb job of citing her accomplished record as a Minnesota senator who has reached across the aisle in Washington and she made a forceful case that the Democrats must nominate someone who can actually get things done as president.

But Buttigieg separated himself from the pack by effectively making the case that he can unify and lead a diverse Democratic Party in the midst of a pitched ideological battle between its liberal and centrist wings.

On Saturday, South Carolina voters should enthusiastically vote for Buttigieg in the Democratic primary.

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