Former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg withdrew from the Democratic presidential race on Sunday, ending his historic bid as the first openly gay man to mount a major bid for the White House.
The former mayor exited the race after a distant fourth place finish in Saturday’s South Carolina primary, where he earned only 8.2% of the vote. Former Vice President Joe Biden finished first with 48.4%, followed by Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont with 19.9% and the billionaire Tom Steyer with 11.3%. Steyer also dropped out of the race this weekend.
Buttigieg struggled to gain the support of black voters, who lifted Biden to his nearly 30-point victory as the first southern state headed to the ballot box. The results of South Carolina’s primary were evidence that the broad coalition of voters needed to carry the former mayor to victory in the Democratic primary had not been activated.
A source close to Buttigieg’s campaign told Politico that the South Carolina loss was a “turning point,” with the candidate concluding that it would be mathematically impossible for him to win the nomination after his defeat. Another source told CNN that Buttigieg did not want to continue to accumulate delegates without realistic path to the nomination, which he believed could help Sanders win.
Buttigieg told his senior staffers in a conference call shortly after midnight Sunday that he was ending his campaign and told reporters the following morning that Biden’s victory in South Carolina was “convincing.” He returned to South Bend to deliver his concession speech.
In the speech to his supporters, Buttigieg said that “by every conventional wisdom, by every historical measure, we were never supposed to get anywhere at all.” After describing his apparent victory in the Iowa caucuses, Buttigieg added that “we must recognize that at this point in the race the best way to keep faith” with the “goals and ideals” that animated his candidacy was “to step aside and help bring our party and our country together.” (The results of the Iowa caucuses were mired in controversy after an app malfunction threw the count into chaos.)
Buttigieg also took a veiled swipe at Sanders, the frontrunner heading into Super Tuesday, adding that Democrats need “a broad-based agenda that can truly deliver for the American people — not one that gets lost in ideology.” Sanders’ critics have claimed that his self-described “democratic socialist” ideology renders him unelectable.
The next question is whether Buttigieg will endorse one of his former opponents prior to Super Tuesday, in which 14 states will hold primaries, including Alabama, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont and Virginia. Former President Barack Obama told Buttigieg Sunday night that the former mayor should weigh how he wants to use his considerable leverage, according to the New York Times. Biden directly asked Buttigieg for his support, with the mayor replying that he wanted to sleep on any decision.
President Donald Trump speculated Sunday night that Buttigieg had withdrawn so moderate Democrats would unite behind Biden in an effort to deprive Sanders of the nomination.
“Pete Buttigieg is OUT,” Trump tweeted. “All of his SuperTuesday 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!”
However, Trump’s assertion is not supported by polling evidence. A Morning Consult survey conducted in late February found Buttigieg’s supporters to be equally divided for their second choice between Sanders, Biden, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Each candidate would improve their margins by roughly two percent with Buttigieg out of the race.