(AP) — Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg has won the backing of Equality California, one of the nation's largest LGBTQ membership organizations, and its Nevada partner organization, an endorsement that could give him a boost in critical Western primaries.
While Buttigieg is the only openly gay candidate in the race, his endorsement by the organizations wasn't a lock. Every candidate was asked to fill out a questionnaire, and the endorsement committee also considered supporting Elizabeth Warren or Tom Steyer, the only Californian still in the race. But Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, impressed the committee with his detailed policies for protecting LGBTQ youth in schools and ending the HIV epidemic by 2030.
"When we had the combination of an LGBTQ candidate who had the most comprehensive and boldest policy agenda, and was also viable ... it was an easy decision," said Rick Zbur, Equality California's executive director.
The organization boasts 900,000 members, making it the country's second-largest membership organization for LGBTQ individuals after the Human Rights Campaign, which does not plan to endorse in the Democratic presidential primary.
The endorsement, announced Thursday, comes less than a week before voting begins in Iowa, the leadoff caucus state. Equality California and Silver State Equality, its newly launched Nevada partnership, will focus on appealing to voters in both states. Nevada is the third state to vote, with a caucus on Feb. 22. California holds its primary on March 3, known as Super Tuesday, but millions of people who vote by mail will get their ballots in February.
Buttigieg, in an emailed statement, called the groups "unrelenting in their fight for LGBTQ+ people and our push for full equality."
"My campaign is based around a shared future of belonging for all Americans, no matter their sexual orientation or gender identity," he said. "President Trump's attacks on the LGBTQ+ community, especially our trans members, have shown us that the fight for equal rights did not end with marriage equality. I will be the president to continue that fight for equality."
Every Democratic candidate had the opportunity to fill out a survey from the groups. Amy Klobuchar is the only major candidate who did not participate, said Samuel Garrett-Pate, a spokesman for the groups. Buttigieg, Steyer and Warren then participated in lengthy interviews with the endorsement committee.
All three had LGBTQ policy platforms that would be the most progressive for any president in history, Zbur said. But Buttigieg stood out for the depth of his plans on such issues as funding programs that can help stop the transmission of and deaths from HIV, and teacher training and mentorship programs in schools to provide support for LGBTQ youth. Zbur said Buttigieg's criminal justice plan, which included plans to protect transgender people, stood out as well.
The group's endorsement means it will be promoting Buttigieg through slate cards highlighting its chosen candidate, a robust texting program and digital advertisements. Equality California has purchased ads on Grindr, an LGBTQ dating app, to promote things such as the upcoming census and get-out-the-vote efforts, and it may run similar ads for Buttigieg.
Buttigieg also has the backing of Victory Fund, an organization that helps LGBTQ candidates win office.
Seeing Buttigieg make a serious run for the presidency as an openly gay man is "something that literally brings tears to the eyes of many members of our community," Zbur said. A Buttigieg presidency would "redefine what's possible in politics and will inspire millions of LGBT youth."
Mandy Lee, former president of the group's board and a member of the endorsement committee, said, "It wasn't just the fact that he was LGBTQ. It was everything that he demonstrated on our call that showed us that he was the best and most invested."
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