'The path has narrowed to a close': Pete Buttigieg ends 2020 campaign with rousing speech

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Pete Buttigieg, the 38-year-old former mayor of South Bend, Indiana who for a brief moment was imagined as the 2020 Democratic presidential nominee, has formally announced his exit from the race, ending a campaign that briefly rivalled sitting senators and a former vice president.

After launching his campaign last April, Mr Buttigieg rose to prominence as the first openly gay man to seek the presidency and the youngest in a field of unprecedented candidates, occupying a moderate lane between an emerging left and an establishment status quo.

But he struggled to gain momentum and solidify his support after two surprising finishes as primary elections began.

"The truth is the path has narrowed to a close", he said during his speech to supporters in South Bend on Sunday. "We have a responsibility to consider the effect of remaining in this race ... I'm making the difficult decision to suspend my campaign. ... But I will do everything in my power to make sure we have a new Democratic president come January."

The Afghan War veteran and Harvard and Oxford educated former mayor didn't rely on his educational and professional bona fides but depicted himself as a homespun voice of middle America, a two-term mayor who believes he can speak for the middle-class "heartland."

But that pivot often backfired amid scrutiny over racial strife in his police department, raising more questions and criticism about his relationship to nonwhite Americans whose crucial votes he needed for the nomination, and for his history with consulting firm McKinsey and Co, among other controversies.

Less than a month ago, his ascendant campaign - propelled by millions of dollars from big-ticket (and massive donor) fundraising efforts - "made history" by scoring a virtual tie with Bernie Sanders in Iowa, followed by a strong finish in New Hampshire, and ultimately out-performing sitting senators and more experienced candidates from the jump.

On the campaign trail and on debate stages, he occupied a centre lane between Joe Biden and Mr Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, often taking aim at their Medicare for All plans by echoing conservative arguments for Americans to maintain "choice" while also borrowing from his opponents, hoping to seize on the popularity of nationalised healthcare with his "Medicare for All Who Want It".

He posited himself as a calmer, more rational, less angry candidate, though Mr Sanders has appealed to voters who he says have every right to feel angry with a political machine that has ignored large swaths of the electorate.

Though Mr Buttigieg debuted with a narrow lead in Iowa, despite a turbulent results process and a premature victory speech, his campaign struggled to make any significant headway, slipping to third place in the Nevada caucus and barely registering with black voters in South Carolina - a failure to capture a key demographic vital for the success of any Democratic nominee in the diverse electorates in crucial high-delegate states on Tuesday.

His departure from the race provides an opening to other moderates, with voters speculating that his exit will consolidate support among remaining candidates in an effort to pull votes away from Mr Sanders, leaving Ms Warren to split and weaken his progressive vote.

On Sunday morning, Mr Buttigieg told NBC's Meet the Press that "every single day, we do a lot of math on this campaign, so we'll be assessing at every turn ... making sure that every step we take is in the best interest of the party and that goal of defeating Donald Trump, because our country can't take four more years of this.

His rhetorical style, borrowing heavily from Barack Obama's broadly sweeping declarations, spoke to repairing divisiveness and re-asserting American values to the forefront of the country's politics.

"What's going to be needed is a message, a messenger and the leadership to make sure those priorities are met", he told Meet the Press.

His husband Chasten Buttigieg, remembering the day Pete asked what he thought about making a president run, said he "knew there were other kids sitting out there in this country that needed to believe in themselves too."

"It is time for every single person in this country to look at the White House and know that institution stands for them", he said.

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