Pete Buttigieg dropped out of the Democratic presidential race Sunday night, ending a campaign that enjoyed a meteoric rise and outshone more experienced competitors but ultimately fell short after being dogged by a lack of minority support.
The former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, told supporters Sunday night that he no longer saw a path to victory and he had a responsibility to “consider the effect of remaining in this race any longer.”
Speaking to a crowd in South Bend, he said his goal now was to unify the Democratic party against President Donald Trump and “win with our values.”
“We began this unlikely journey with a staff of four,” he said. “No big email lists. No personal fortune. Almost nobody knew my name and almost no one could pronounce it.”
The speech came one day after Buttigieg won just 3 percent of black voters in South Carolina, according to NBC News exit polls, reinforcing concerns about his ongoing inability to win votes from one of the party’s most important constituencies despite the candidate’s efforts to address the issue.
A Buttigieg official said the campaign saw “a very, very narrow path” to victory and that “we weren’t where we needed to be” after South Carolina.
NBC News exit polls found that the state’s electorate was 56 percent African American, the first majority-black primary this election cycle.
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It isn’t clear who Buttigieg’s supporters will now back or whether he will endorse one of the remaining candidates. Recent polling by Morning Consult found that his backers split among various other candidates as their second choice: 21 percent picked Sanders, 19 percent picked Biden, 19 percent liked Warren and 17 percent were on board with Bloomberg.
Representatives of both the Buttigieg and Biden campaigns have been in discussions about potentially consolidating support around the former vice president, a source with knowledge told NBC News.
A Biden campaign official separately said Buttigieg and Biden tried to connect this afternoon and traded voice mail messages.
President Donald Trump responded with some speculation about what comes next:
Buttigieg, an Afghanistan war veteran and first openly gay nominee of a major political party, won an impressive victory in Iowa and narrowly lost New Hampshire, two overwhelmingly white states. Then it fell apart in the more diverse contests — he placed third in Nevada and fourth in South Carolina, faring poorly with Latino and black voters who make up a large share of upcoming “Super Tuesday” states.
The Iowa victory made history as Buttigieg became the first millennial and openly gay American to carry a state in a major party presidential primary.
Buttigieg will end his campaign having won 26 delegates.
Ironically for a youthful candidate, Buttigieg appealed mostly to older and white voters and failed to make inroads with the party’s rising constituencies of young people, Latinos and black voters.
In some ways, Buttigieg’s message was a better fit for the Democratic nomination of 2004 than 2020. He poked fun at elite condescension of “flyover country” and the “American Heartland” of the Midwest. He called for deficit reduction and denounced the “revolutionary politics of the 1960s.” His surrogates fondly reminisced about the TV show “The West Wing.”
His throwback message was lost on younger voters. He was an AIM candidate in a TikTok world, with supporters more familiar with Billy Joel than Billie Eilish.
At just 38, he is widely seen to have a bright future and may be better served by quitting now instead of continuing to compete with rivals, one of whom he will likely end up supporting in the general election.
“He’s getting out now because he doesn’t believe there’s a clear path, and he’s practicing what he presses: To bring the party and the country together,” a second Buttigieg campaign official said.
Craig Melvin and Priscilla Thompson contributed.