Former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg will suspend his presidential bid, ending a remarkable campaign where he became the first openly gay presidential candidate to win a state.
A source with Buttigieg’s campaign tells VICE News that he’d changed his travel plans to head back to his hometown Sunday evening and would make a speech there formalizing his decision.
The decision comes after his meteoric rise in the race flamed out in recent weeks. Buttigieg jumped into the race a little-known, 37-year-old, small-town mayor whose greatest national exposure had been a losing campaign to be chairman of the Democratic National Committee in 2016.
But his eloquent speaking style, biography as a former Rhodes Scholar and military veteran, and the historic nature of his candidacy helped vault him suddenly into the top tier of the presidential race last year.
Buttigieg’s rise meant more scrutiny, however, specifically on his civil rights record. He was hounded throughout his campaign for firing a black police chief and for his city’s struggles with police reform, chased from stop to stop by local Black Lives Matter activists.
Even as he rose in national and early-state polls, he barely registered any support at all with black and brown voters. And after early success in Iowa and New Hampshire, his campaign quickly faded as Democrats from the more diverse states of Nevada and South Carolina went to the polls.
Buttigieg’s decision to drop out came after he finished a distant fourth place in South Carolina’s Saturday primary — and just two days ahead of Super Tuesday, the primary’s biggest election day. He hasn’t held a lead in any Super Tuesday state poll, and he was facing the reality that he might fall below the 15% threshold needed to win delegates in most of the states he’s competing in, leaving him with no path to the nomination.
The former mayor’s rise was fueled by a breakout performance in a February 2019 CNN town hall. He quickly leapfrogged a number of lawmakers with national profiles.
That helped fuel a fundraising bonanza that made Buttigieg a formidable candidate to contend with. And he paired his strong appeal with donors from the coastal elites as well as strong support from many in the LGBTQ community with a unity-focused, Christianity-inflected rhetorical style that some saw as reminiscent of President Obama’s own campaign to appeal to voters in the Heartland.
That helped Buttigieg eventually rise to the top of the polls in Iowa — and eventually eke out a narrow delegate win over Sen. Bernie Sanders. But the debacle of the Iowa caucuses undercut the momentum Buttigieg could have claimed from that victory, and a weak debate performance the next week, coupled with a strong showing from Sen. Amy Klobuchar, might have pushed enough moderate voters to her in New Hampshire to allow Sanders to beat Buttigieg in that state.
Then things got much harder for the young candidate. He finished far behind Sanders in Nevada’s caucuses, and his struggles with African Americans meant he never had a shot to truly compete in South Carolina, where Joe Biden won handily.
Buttigieg’s decision to drop out likely helps Biden — and possibly former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg — as they hunt for delegates in Super Tuesday’s critical primaries. After his South Carolina victory, Biden is vying to be the clear alternative to Sanders in the primary.
Cover: Democratic presidential candidate former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg campaigns Saturday, Feb. 29, 2020, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)