Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg picked up an endorsement from a prominent Florida African-American this week, a development that could help the Indiana presidential contender with a demographic he’s been struggling to attract: black voters.
Sean Shaw, the Florida Democratic Party’s nominee for attorney general in 2018, endorsed Buttigieg’s candidacy Monday. Shaw is the first African-American nominee in state history to run for attorney general, and he’s the son of former Florida Supreme Court justice Leander Shaw.
“Mayor Pete’s bold, progressive vision of the future, one where every American’s voice is heard clearly and equally, is precisely what this country needs,” Shaw said in a statement. “We have to renew our democratic system, secure health care for all, pass common sense gun safety reforms, and defend civil and equal rights. Mayor Pete is the Democratic Party’s best hope to move us forward and win the next era in Americans politics.”
Shaw represented Tampa in the state House from 2016-18, but gave up his seat last year to run for attorney general, a battle he ultimately lost to Republican Ashley Moody. He previously served as Insurance Consumer Advocate under then-Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink from 2008-2010.
Buttigieg’s appearance at a Miami fundraiser Monday night was his first campaign visit to the Sunshine State.
The 37-year-old former naval intelligence officer has emerged in the early going of the race as an unlikely contender. He was recently featured on the cover of TIME, and has been appearing in the top tier level Democratic candidates in early polling behind the much better-known Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders.
While Buttigieg has emerged from being a relative unknown midwestern mayor to a top-tier candidate in the past few months, he’s barely registering with black voters in states like South Carolina. A recent poll taken there showed him with zero percent from black voters.
“What this tells us is that we’ve got a lot of work cut out for us,” Buttigieg told reporters last week when asked about the anemic support for him in the black community. “In order to win and in order to deserve to win, my campaign needs to go above and beyond when reaching out to black voters and that’s going to continue to be a priority for us.”
Shaw tells the Phoenix that he will work to help Buttigieg get support among Florida’s black Democrats, but says he believes that Democrats of all types will warm to Buttigieg’s candidacy once they learn his stances on issues like reparation for slavery, criminal justice reform and economic development. “There’s a lot of stuff going on in his policy wheelhouse that I like, and I think a lot of Democrats are going to like as well,” Shaw says.
A survey of Florida Democratic lawmakers taken earlier this month by POLITICO showed that former Vice President Joe Biden was the early favorite among state House and Senate Democrats.. And a statewide poll published last week of 800 likely Democratic primary voters showed Biden with an overwhelming lead in Florida – some 10 months before Florida Democrats will vote for a nominee. Biden was at 36 percent, 23 points higher than his closest competitor, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who was at 13 percent. Buttigieg was in fifth place with five percent support.
Shaw says that he has tremendous support for Biden and isn’t about to make any predictions on the race. “You gotta go with who you have a comfort level with, and my heart is pulling me towards Mayor Pete,” he said late Monday afternoon, shortly before he was to introduce Buttigieg at the Miami fundraiser.
Buttigieg was also endorsed on Monday by state Rep. Adam Hattersley, a Democratic freshman from Hillsborough County who just completed his first session in Tallahassee.
“Proud to endorse @PeteButtigieg for President of the United States,” Hattersley tweeted on Monday. “We need new, energetic leadership who knows what service really means!”