The knives are out for the improbable early star of the 2020 Democrat presidential contest.

Pete Buttigieg, the 37-year-old mayor from Indiana, has stunned his fellow candidates by surging into third place in some polls, having been unheard of only weeks ago.

His meteoric rise has left flat-footed the shadowy political dirt-diggers who operate on the fringes of US political campaigns.

They had gathered plenty of damaging information – officially known as "opposition research" – on big name rivals, but knew nothing of Mr Buttigieg.

That is about to change as researchers head for South Bend, his home town, where they plan to look through every budget Mr Buttigieg ever passed, read the minutes of every council meeting he was ever at, and file Freedom of Information requests for anything not public.

Already, a theme is emerging which will be used to attack the young mayor – that black voters will not support him.

Black voters make up a key constituency in the Democrat nomination process.

In South Carolina, the first state in the South to go to the polls, around 60 per cent of Democrat primary voters are black.

Mr Buttigieg’s crowds so far have been overwhelmingly white and noticeably lacking in racial diversity.

Operatives from rival Democrat campaigns plan to build on that weakness by frequently referencing an incident in which Mr Buttigieg demoted South Bend’s first black police chief Darryl Boykins.

It happened after the South Bend police department secretly recorded white police officers believed to have made racist comments.

Despite pressure from the city council, and activist groups, Mr Buttigieg has refused to release the tapes because they were recorded illegally.

After being demoted Mr Boykins sued for racial discrimination and received a settlement.

Mr Buttigieg is also set to face criticism over his "1,000 homes in 1,000 days" plan which involved demolishing abandoned houses in South Bend.

Critics said it led to gentrification and black families being priced out of where they lived.

Mr Buttigieg, who is attempting to become America’s fist gay president, has already admitted he was "a little bit slow to understand just how much anguish" the demotion of Mr Boykins would cause in South Bend’s black community.

He has also admitted that his housing policy was "not perfect". Both issues are set to be combed over in minute detail in the coming weeks by operatives acting for his Democrat rivals.

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