Amid accusations from former and current staffers of color that their concerns were repeatedly ignored, former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg's presidential campaign is insisting that it's committed to diversity.
Both The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that minority staffers felt they were placed under undue stress by campaign officials. According to the Times, the staffers said they suffered under the "emotional weight" placed on them by the campaign, which has struggled to attract support from Hispanics and African Americans.
Buttigieg addressed the two reports after his town hall event in Ottumwa Tuesday. "I want everyone on our team to know that I'm proud of them, that I'm thankful for them, and that I support them. It's one of the reasons why we've taken steps that may not be something that is typical or has happened a lot before in presidential campaigns," Buttigieg said.
"There aren't easy answers and we have to continue working constantly on this in our organization, as I think every organization does and as our country does," Buttigieg said. "But I believe that through these conversations and by lifting up those voices, we've been able to live out those values that are so important that I set out early in this campaign, and really model the kind of White House we want to build."
In a Medium post published Tuesday morning, the campaign wrote that the operation wanted to be "reflective of the country" as the campaign expanded. The post indicated that 40% of campaign staff members identify as people of color.
The post detailed some of the "diversity and inclusion" initiatives within the campaign as well. The post highlights two training events – one at a staff retreat in May and another in December.
The campaign says it has also created "bridge groups," where staff members who identify with certain affinity groups can build communities within the campaign and make recommendations to senior campaign leadership officials. "Belonging" sessions have been instituted, to enable staffers to talk openly about diversity issues in the campaign.
There is also an effort to develop and offer constituency-based campaign merchandise. The campaign website now offers merchandise geared toward the military and veterans, black Americans, Hispanics, LGBTQ and students.
Democratic presidential candidates, except for the senators who are required to be in Washington for the impeachment trial, are delivering their closing arguments to Iowa voters. The Iowa caucuses, the first contest of the Democratic primary calendar, will be held this coming Monday.
Buttigieg has risen to the top tier in polling in Iowa and New Hampshire, both of which are predominantly white, but early polls indicate Buttigieg has attracted little support from minority voters in other states and nationwide.
A recent Washington Post-Ipsos national poll of African American voters showed that the former mayor registered 2% support, which was well behind former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.
Buttigieg has frequently said on the campaign trail that support among the African American community will increase once those voters learn more about him. But the Washington Post poll showed that Buttigieg received only 3% support from African American voters who say they are familiar with the former mayor.
At a town hall in Vinton, Iowa on Monday, a caucus goer told Buttigieg he was "concerned" that the candidate's message has not resonated with communities of color. Buttigieg countered that he has the support from African American South Bend officials, but he is also keenly aware that the most effective proof of concept for his candidacy among these voters is a strong performance in the earliest-voting states.
"Now here's the paradox. One thing that so many voters in the Democratic primaries, including a lot of African American, Latino voters have in common is a laser focus on beating this president, making sure that you can win," Buttigieg responded. "And so there, we're all out here talking about how we can win. But at a certain point you got to show versus tell. And the first opportunity to do that is right here in Iowa.
"So, I know that you're paying attention to the states down the calendar and how important they're going to be. Don't underestimate the extent to which they're paying attention to what happens right here on the ground."