CHARLESTON, S.C. | Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg said he has struggled to gain support from black voters because they “feel burned” by politicians who make big promises to them before every election.

Mr. Buttigieg, the openly gay mayor of South Bend, Indiana, said that because he is white and new on the national political scene, he has to work harder to earn the trust of black voters, who are a crucial voting bloc for Democrats.

“Black voters I’ve talked to, frankly, feel burned and taken advantage of by politicians in both parties, who come along making lavish promises, taking a vote for granted, showing up just before an election,” he said Saturday at a forum here hosted by the Black Economic Alliance.

Mr. Buttigieg has surged from obscurity to among the top-tier candidates in national and state polls, including in the key early primary state of South Carolina.

However, Democratic Party officials here have noted the lack of diversity in Mr. Buttiegig’s campaign operation and the absence of large black turnout for his events.

Support from blacks is indispensable for Democratic presidential candidates in South Carolina, where black voters made up 60% of the party’s primary electorate in 2016.

Vying with Mr. Buttigieg for support from black voters at the forum were candidates Sen. Cory A. Booker of New Jersey, Sen. Kamala D. Harris of California, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.

Each candidate focused on his or her plans to close the wealth gap between black and white Americans, including making federal dollars available to provide equity for business development by black entrepreneurs.

Mr. Buttigieg talked about reforming the credit rating system to remove discrimination built into the system.

He also said he is making a concerted effort to connect with black voters.

“Part of it is making sure at opportunities like today and others that we are engaging with black activists and black entrepreneurs and black voters and black leaders to talk about what an agenda for black American is really going to look like,” he said.

The mayor said he strives to have an “authentic encounter” with people at every stop when he talks about his agenda. He said he also wants to stress the Democratic values behind his agenda.

“Like freedom. Conservatives talk about it all the time like they own the market on freedom,” he said. “But they only think about freedom as cutting regulation, cutting government. I think you are not free if you don’t have access to health care.”

The line drew applause from the crowd at the forum. He got louder applause when he went on to say that freedom includes “women’s reproductive freedom.”

“It’s not freedom if there is a veil of mistrust between you as a resident of color and the officers who are sworn to keep you safe. That’s freedom, too,” he said. “It’s not just something you can achieve by taring down government.”

Mr. Buttigieg noted that the population of South Bend is roughly 25% black.

“I never could have become mayor and certainly never could have succeeded without a strong relationship with our black community,” he said.

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