UPDATED: 5:34 p.m. ET —
Democrats in Iowa on Tuesday released partial returns in the state’s caucuses about 18 hours after voting started following a technical snafu. With about 62 percent of polling places reporting their returns, Pete Buttigieg narrowly led Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.
While the remaining 38 percent of the precincts were not immediately announced, their returns could result in someone other than Buttigieg winning the Iowa Caucuses. However, after candidates were criticized for each announcing their respective victories before results were announced Monday night, it seems that Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, was the only one who was correct.
The partial results were announced after Buttigieg was accused of strategically placing a group of his Black women supporters behind him during a speech Monday night in Iowa in an apparent attempt to push back on the narrative that he and his campaign were having problems attracting Black voters. In the latest national poll, Buttigieg had just 2 percent of support among Black voters.
But it was how the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, claimed victory that caught more people’s attention than the fact that he was doing so without any election officials confirming who won.
Reporters in the capital city of Des Moines noticed something that they said didn’t feel familiar in their experience covering Mayor Pete’s campaign: There were a group of Black supporters seated prominently — and strategically — in the front row of a venue where the candidate who is polling the overall lowest with Black people was giving his victory speech.
“Tonight an improbable hope became an undeniable reality,” Buttigieg told the crowd.
Twitter timelines instantly lit up with suspicions that Mayor Pete had planted the Black supporters for optics’ sake to push back on the narrative that he has no support within the Black community. After all, in a state that it 90 percent white where the mayor just last week admitted to the Washington Post that he was “humbled by the challenge” of connecting with Black voters, the showing of Black women supporters in that front row rightfully raised some eyebrows considering that imagery has been absent from his campaign.
South Bend advocate Gladys Muhammad, who is Black, was one of the people in attendance and told the audience not to believe the hype.
“The national media says blacks in South Bend don’t support Pete Buttigieg,” Muhammad said. “Here I am. Black and I’m proud!”
Mayor’s Pete’s traveling press secretary also pushed back hard on that narrative after one Washington Post reporter tweeted about his own skepticism over the Black supporters’ convenient placement in front of the cameras that showed viewers on TV a totally different perspective than the reality that they were swimming in a sea of otherwise white people.
“What about Ms. Gladys and her story? What about the several Black women EYE was standing with?” Nina Smith asked Eugene Scott in replying to his tweet about “the optics of placing more black voters behind Buttigieg given how he has struggled with the black vote.”
Smith continued: “The women behind Pete stood together as they have this entire campaign. And once again, their voice, their CHOICE, is erased. Really?”
The scene was reminiscent of the time when one Republican North Carolina Rep. Mark Meadows pulled out HUD official Lynne Patton — a Black woman — as a prop during Michael Cohen‘s Congressional testimony as apparent proof that the president is not racist. Much like Monday night at the Buttigieg event, that stunt didn’t go over well, either.
It’s no secret that Buttigieg has struggled with Black voters. The most recent national polling that measured support among Black voters showed the mayor at just 2 percent. Black people in Iowa just this past weekend expressed frustration at what they said was an unwillingness for candidates to court their vote in urban areas, instead deferring to rural residents.
So what changed so quickly on Monday night as politicos waited for the state’s Democratic Party to sort out the results after technical difficulties were blamed for the delay? Those Black folks seated behind Buttigieg may actually be supporters from back home in Indiana, like Muhammad. The mayor has been trying to tout his support from Black people in South Bend and throughout that state. Maybe the prominent placement at his rally was payback for their support. Or, maybe his campaign made sure that Black Iowans were sitting there. That question may never be answered.
However, it could be argued that Buttigieg has bigger fish to fry since he was polling at a distant fifth place nationally and fourth place in New Hampshire, the site of the next primary scheduled for Feb. 11.