Democratic debate hosted by MSNBC and Washington Post: Live updates

Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg acknowledged the most existential threat to his candidacy at Wednesday’s debate – his lack of African American support – and accepted implicit criticism by California Sen. Kamala Harris by saying he agrees with her views on the importance of black voters.

Buttigieg’s lack of black support, especially in South Carolina, has been a critical issue for the mayor of South Bend and something he has been trying to address for months. But his work has done little and a recent poll in the southern state – where the Democratic primary electorate is expected to be heavily African American – found he has 0% support.

Harris, in response to question about past comments she made about Buttigieg’s support, said that her answer came in response to the Buttigieg campaign using a stock photo that was taken in Kenya as an image related to his plan aimed at racial equality on a host of issues. The Buttigieg campaign apologized for using the photo, but said they were not aware the photo was taken in Kenya when it was used.

Harris didn’t focus on the photo issue very long – “I believe the mayor has made apologies for that,” she said – and instead turned to the importance of black voters in an implicit criticism of the mayor.

“The larger issue is that for too long candidates have taken for granted constituencies that have been the backbone of the Democratic Party and has overlooked those constituencies,” she said.

When the conversation turned to Buttigieg, the mayor said, “I completely agree.”

“And I welcome the challenge of connecting with black voters in America who don’t yet know me,” Buttigieg said. “And before I share what’s in my plans, let me talk about what’s in my heart and why this is so important.”

Buttigieg went on to talk about his time as mayor of South Bend, a city that is over a quarter black, and his faith.

“I care about this because my faith teaches me that salvation has to do with how I make myself useful to those who have been excluded, marginalized, and cast aside and oppressed in society,” he said.

But he closed out the answer by talking about his sexuality:

“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, and seeing my rights expanded by a coalition of people like me and people not at all like me,” he said. “Making it possible for me to be standing here, 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.”