Pete Buttigieg Drops Out of the Democratic Presidential Race

Tyler Pager and Emma Kinery
Pete Buttigieg Drops Out of the Democratic Presidential Race

(Bloomberg) -- Pete Buttigieg ended his presidential campaign Sunday after failing to secure the diverse coalition needed to win the Democratic nomination.

“Tonight I am making the difficult decision to suspend my campaign for the presidency,” he told a hometown crowd in South Bend, Indiana, adding, “I will do everything in my power to ensure we that have a new Democratic president come January.”

Buttigieg rose from a young mayor of Indiana’s fourth-largest city to the first openly gay presidential candidate to earn delegates toward the nomination. The 38-year-old newcomer to the national stage outlasted several senators and governors in the crowded Democratic field but got little support from non-white voters.

His decision came only a month after he won the delegate race in the Iowa caucuses, and his campaign hoped that victory would propel him to national front-runner status. It was enough to push him into a close second place with Sanders in New Hampshire, but the success failed to help him as the nominating contest moved to more diverse states.

Ultimately, his fourth-place finish in South Carolina proved to be the final blow to his candidacy, as it demonstrated his inability to win over voters of color, which made his path to the nomination nearly impossible. Buttigieg won just 3% of the black vote in South Carolina on Saturday, exit polls showed.

Advantage Biden

The decision to drop out just before Super Tuesday, when voters in 14 states go to the polls, is a potential boon for former Vice President Joe Biden, who’s looking for moderate and establishment Democrats to unite behind his campaign in an effort to blunt Bernie Sanders’s momentum from the party’s left wing.

Sanders on Sunday congratulated Buttigieg on running “a brilliant campaign” and invited his former rival’s supporters to join his campaign. “I just want to welcome all of his supporters into our movement, and to urge them to joining us in the fight for real change in this country,” Sanders said.

President Donald Trump weighed in on Twitter, predicting that “all of his Super Tuesday votes will go to Sleepy Joe Biden. Great timing. This is the REAL beginning of the Dems taking Bernie out of play - NO NOMINATION, AGAIN!”

Buttigieg held a brief call with some of his major donors just before making his announcement, according to a donor on the call. The donor said Buttigieg read a statement but kept it short. Many of the donors were angry to have learned of Buttigieg’s decision from media reports and said they felt blindsided by the move.

Buttigieg’s biography made him something of a wunderkind among the Democratic contenders. He graduated from Harvard University and was a Rhodes Scholar. He was the youngest mayor of a city with a population over 100,000 when he was elected at age 29, and is a veteran of the war in Afghanistan

On the campaign trail, Buttigieg presented himself as a representative of a younger generation ready to take over from septuagenarians such as Sanders and Joe Biden. He also touted his service as a Navy intelligence officer, including his duty in Afghanistan, which he said gave him credibility on national security.

He scoffed during last week’s presidential debate in Charleston, South Carolina, about Sanders’s praise for Cuba’s Fidel Castro, saying the party couldn’t win by displaying nostalgia for the 1960s.

Buttigieg came out as gay while running for re-election for mayor, which he won handily. His husband, Chasten, joined him on the presidential campaign trail.

Colorado Governor Jared Polis, the first openly gay man to lead a U.S. state, tweeted thanks to Buttigieg “for your historic run, sorely needed message of unity, and forward-looking vision.”

The candidate’s cerebral approach to issues and ability to speak several languages drew an enthusiastic response with some audiences but failed to connect with the wider Democratic electorate. Though he was able to fund raise large amounts -- he brought in the second-biggest haul of any candidate in 2019 behind Sanders -- by the end of his run the campaign was bleeding cash.

‘Different Perspective’

Buttigieg’s lack of experience beyond the local level also drew scrutiny from other candidates in a race hyper-focused on electability and unseating President Donald Trump. Buttigieg easily lost an election to become state treasurer of Indiana in 2010, and in 2017 withdrew his bid for chair of the Democratic National Committee on the day of the election.

Still, Buttigieg played up his youth as an asset, offering himself as a candidate for generational change.

“I bring a different perspective,” Buttigieg said in a January debate in Des Moines, Iowa. “There are enlisted people that I served with, barely old enough to remember those votes on the authorization after 9/11, on the war in Iraq. There are people now old enough to enlist who were not alive during those debates.”

African American voters’ disinterest in Buttigieg was fueled in part by his firing of South Bend’s first black police chief, who had been recording telephone calls of other officers allegedly making racist remarks in 2012. The officer later sued for racial discrimination. The racial tensions in South Bend only intensified in June 2019 when an officer shot and killed a black man. Buttigieg briefly left the campaign trail to return to home to address the crisis.

Buttigieg also received criticism for pivoting mid-race from progressive ideas to being a moderate, younger alternative to Biden. Early in his campaign, for example, he proposed adding justices to the Supreme Court and doing away with the Electoral College.

Nationally Buttigieg averaged 5% to 8% in the RealClearPolitics average, peaking at 11.8% in late November and standing at 11% when he decided to exit.

(Disclaimer: Michael Bloomberg is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination. He is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News.)

(Updates with Sanders comments in seventh paragraph)

To contact the reporters on this story: Tyler Pager in Washington at tpager1@bloomberg.net;Emma Kinery in Washington at ekinery@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Wendy Benjaminson at wbenjaminson@bloomberg.net, Max Berley, Derek Wallbank

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