CHARLESTON, S.C. — Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg quoted the Gospel of Matthew in his first statewide ad in South Carolina, the latest in the candidate’s references to Christianity in his campaign messages.
The ad opens with a clip from an Iowa speech Buttigieg gave Nov. 1:
“In our White House, you won’t have to shake your head and ask yourself: What ever happened to ‘I was hungry and you fed me; I was a stranger and you welcomed me’,” a reference to Matthew 25:35.
The ad will be released on Tuesday in South Carolina television markets.
Although he has polled better in Iowa and New Hampshire, Buttigieg polls at an average of 6.5 points in South Carolina, behind former vice president Joe Biden, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-MA, and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-VT.
As the first southern state in the primary process, South Carolina is generally considered an important campaign milestone, and primary performance in the state is regarded as an indication of a candidate’s national electability.
The South Carolina primary is especially a key indicator of support for candidates among black voters, who make up 30% of the state’s electorate and 60% of Democratic primary voters.
Buttigieg has come under harsh criticism for his record on racial issues during his term as mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and has only 4% support among black voters nationwide. Some political analysts have suggested his Gospel-themed video is intended as an overture to churchgoing black voters in the state.
In the ad, Buttigieg stresses a need to “unify the American people,” saying that unification “doesn’t mean pretending that we’re all the same. It means unifying around issues from wages and family leave to gun violence and immigration. The hope of an American experience defined not by exclusion, but by belonging.”
Among black voters in South Carolina, Buttigieg has less than 1% support.
In November, Buttigieg was accused of fabricating support among black leaders in South Carolina, several of whom who denied giving his campaign permission to list their names as supporters. Nearly half of a campaign list of black supporters in the state were found to actually be white people.
The Buttigieg campaign also admitted to using a stock photo of a Kenyan woman and child to promote his “Douglass Plan for Black America” on the campaign website. The campaign said it did not know the picture had originated from Africa and has since removed it.
Buttigieg, a baptized Catholic who now attends an Episcopalian Church, has repeatedly invoked his Protestantism to support his stance on a range of political issues, including support for same-sex marriage. Earlier this year, he said that those who opposed same-sex marriage had a problem “with my Creator.” Buttigieg is in a civil same-sex partnership. In recent months he has also invoked his religious affiliation to criticize Republican tax and immigration policies.
In an April appearance on Meet The Press, Buttigieg also defended earlier remarks in which he appeared to question President Donald Trump’s belief in God, and suggested that Evangelical Christians who support President Trump are hypocrites.
Trump, said Buttigieg, is not following scriptural imperatives for believers to care for widows and immigrants, and therefore is not behaving in a Christlike manner.
“The hypocrisy is unbelievable,” said Buttigieg. “Here you have somebody who not only acts in a way that is not consistent with anything that I hear in scripture in church, where it’s about lifting up the least among us and taking care of strangers, which is another word for immigrants, and making sure that you’re focusing your effort on the poor--but also personally, how you’re supposed to conduct yourself.”
Self-described white born-again/evangelical Christians voted overwhelmingly for Trump in 2016, with 81 percent in favor compared to only 16 percent voting for Hillary Clinton.
Catholics, particularly Hispanic Catholics, supported Trump in 2016 at higher levels than they did Mitt Romney in 2012. The last time a Republican presidential candidate won majority support among Catholic voters was George W. Bush in 2004.
In response to Buttigieg’s comments on biblical imperatives, Meet the Press host Chuck Todd asked the mayor his thoughts on abortion. Buttigieg, who considers himself pro-choice, said he thinks abortion is a moral question that should be decided by a woman and her doctor, not by “a male government official imposing his interpretation of his religion.”
The Church teaches that abortion is the deliberate ending of an innocent human life, and is a grave sin.