Senator Kamala Harris says South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg sounded "a bit naïve" when he brought up the discrimination gay Americans face during a back-and-forth about his problems attracting support from black voters at .
During a Black Women Power Breakfast hosted by Higher Heights, a national political organization for black women that endorsed Harris earlier this month, Harris said it was wrongheaded for Buttigieg to "compare our struggles."
"Those of us who've been involved in Civil Rights for a long time we know that it is important that we not compare our struggles. It is not productive, it is not smart and strategically it works against what we need to do which is build coalition." Harris said Thursday. "We know that in our ongoing fight for civil rights if any one of us starts to differentiate ourselves in a certain way and in particular what he did on the stage, it's just not productive. And I think it's a bit naïve."
Buttigieg rejected Harris' accusation Thursday, saying "there's no equating those two experiences."
"What I do think is important is for each of us to reveal who we are and what motivates us and it's important for voters to understand what makes me tick, what moves me and my sources of motivation and ensuring that I stand up for others," Buttigieg told reporters. "Last night I shared that some of my sources of motivation included my personal experience, my governing experience and my personal faith."
During Wednesday's debate Buttigieg said he agreed with Harris that the Democratic Party has overlooked black women, a central component of the party's base, and that he welcomed "the challenge of connecting with black voters."
"While I do not have the experience of ever having been discriminated against because of the color of my skin, 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," Buttigieg said during the debate.
He added, "Wearing this wedding ring in a way that couldn't have happened two elections ago lets me know just how deep my obligation is to help those whose rights are on the line every day, even if they are nothing like me in their experience."
While Harris did not call Buttigieg out on the debate stage after his answer, she immediately began criticizing his comments when asked about them by CNN after the debate. "I'm never going to engage or allow anyone to engage in comparing struggles. I think that is just misdirected," she said.
"So we're going to now say that my pain is worse than your pain? We had 400 years of slavery in this country. We had years of lynching, which involved black men in particular being dragged from their homes and hung on a tree, often castrated."
She added, "I think that anyone who wants to actually build the coalition around the country and bring people together should not be in the position of saying that one group's pain is equal to or less than or greater than another's."
Buttigieg, who is openly gay, has risen in recent Iowa and New Hampshire polls but has struggled to attract support from black voters. A Quinnipiac University poll released Monday indicated that he is currently backed by 0% of African Americans in South Carolina.
Harris, meanwhile, is the daughter of an Jamaican father and an Indian American mother. Recent polls have shown her polling well behind Democratic frontrunners like Buttigieg in some early states.