South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg acknowledged his struggle with black voters at the 5th Democratic debate Wednesday, saying that he welcomes "the challenge" and relates to the fight for civil rights through his experience as a gay man.

BUTTIGIEG: "I welcome the challenge of connecting with black voters in America who don't yet know me ... and I care about this because, 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, working side by side, shoulder to shoulder, 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."

Why it matters: Buttigieg has largely failed to gain the support of black voters. He was criticized for demoting South Bend's black police chief prior entering the presidential race. His leadership was also questioned following an officer-involved shooting of a black man in his city in July. The mayor took a leave of absence from the campaign to respond to the community's concerns.

  • Buttigieg was also criticized this week over his campaign for using a stock photo of a Kenyan woman to illustrate his plan to advance America's black communities.
  • A campaign spokesperson apologized for the use of the photo, per USA Today, but added that the use of stock photos is "standard practice across many campaigns."

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Editor's note: This story has been updated to clarify that Mayor Pete Buttigieg did not fire South Bend's police chief. Buttigieg demoted the city's police chief prior to entering the presidential race.

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