Buttigieg receives his first endorsement from black member of Congress

By Dan Merica, CNN

(CNN) -- Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg was endorsed by Maryland Congressman Anthony G. Brown on Thursday, the first time the former South Bend, Indiana, mayor, who has struggled to garner black support, won the endorsement of a black member of Congress.

Buttigieg also announced that Brown will serve as a co-chair of his campaign, and an aide tells CNN that they plan to have the congressman hit the campaign trail for Buttigieg in the coming weeks.

The endorsement marks a significant step for Buttigieg, who has worked for months to make inroads with black voters across the country but has yet to see notable results. Those efforts have concentrated on South Carolina, the fourth state in the Democratic nominating process, where black voters make up a large block of the primary electorate.

"Our country needs a president who can heal our divides and restore decency to our nation's highest office," Brown said in a statement. "Pete's message is not defined by exclusion but welcomes everyone into the fight to tackle our nation's greatest challenges."

Brown, who also served as Maryland's lieutenant governor and is a veteran of the Iraq War, said that military experience is one of the key reasons he backed Buttigieg.

"As we fight for the future of the soul of our country here at home, we also remain entangled in endless wars abroad and the threats to American lives and interests around the world have increased," Brown said. "After serving three decades in the Army and Army Reserve and now as Vice Chair of the House Armed Services Committee, I'm acutely aware that the top priority for the President should be the security and safety of our nation, which is why my choice for president is Mayor Pete Buttigieg."

While the endorsement is significant for Buttigieg, he still trails other 2020 hopefuls -- especially former Vice President Joe Biden -- in endorsements from the influential Congressional Black Caucus, of which Brown is a member.

Brown told CNN in an interview that he decided to back Buttigieg in December after having coffee with the then-mayor and spending two days with him in Iowa.

"So I spent two days, almost 48 hours with him, everything but sharing the same room, I guess," Brown said, "Listening to him but also watching the audience, watching how he connects with people."

Brown said that trip included a town hall hosted by the NAACP in Iowa, where the mayor took a number of tough, direct questions.

"I just noticed he connects across a range of issues," Brown said.

Brown told CNN he was cognizant of Buttigieg's issues with black voters, but said he believes that is a function of people not knowing him, not that they know him and don't like him.

"Pete has done very well, from a zero almost in Iowa to perhaps the leading candidate today because of his message and it resonates," he said. "I believe that as members of the African American community, as we hear more from him, not only his broad general ideas ... but the specifics proposals he has to uplift and empower the African American community ... I think he is going to resonate well with the community and that his numbers will increase."

There is a "correlation between his low numbers in African American community and his name ID, and that is not uncommon," Brown added.

"As a veteran of the Iraq War, Congressman Brown understands firsthand the gravity of the decisions that are made in Washington," Buttigieg said in a statement. "Congressman Brown has been a leader in rejecting the political warfare we have come to expect from Washington, focused on keeping our nation safe while working to end endless wars, boosting workforce development, and make sure we have an economy that works for everyone.

He added: "I am honored to have Congressman Brown's endorsement and am thrilled to have him co-chair my campaign."

Brown is the fourth member of Congress to endorse Buttigieg. Virginia Rep. Don Beyer endorsed the mayor in April 2019, and retiring Indiana Rep. Pete Visclosky and New York Rep. Kathleen Rice backed Buttigieg in November 2019.

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