Pete Buttigieg, America’s first openly gay major presidential candidate, has quit the race for the Democratic presidential nomination.
His decision comes just a day after his rival Joe Biden scored a resounding victory in South Carolina that sparked new pressure on the party’s moderate wing to get behind Mr Biden.
Mr Buttigieg, 38, a former two-term mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and an Afghanistan war veteran, promised a departure from the politics of the past.
He was critical of Mr Biden, arguing that the 77-year-old former vice president was out of step with today’s politics.
But his criticism had shifted in recent days more towards the liberal frontrunner, 78-year-old Bernie Sanders.
Mr Buttigieg narrowly won the Iowa caucuses that kicked off the nominating race in February and finished a close second in New Hampshire.
But his early momentum from those rural, mostly white states did not translate into electoral success in the more diverse states of Nevada and South Carolina.
After finishing a distant third in the Nevada caucuses, Mr Buttigieg came in fourth on Saturday in South Carolina, where he won support from just 3% of African-American voters.
Speaking about the end of his candidacy, Mr Buttigieg said his campaign began its “unlikely journey” with a staff of four, no big email lists and no personal fortune.
“We got into this race in order to defeat the current president and in order to usher in a new kind of politics,” Mr Buttigieg told his supporters.
Now, he said, it was time to “step aside and help bring our party and our country together”.
Mr Biden said Buttigieg had run a trail-blazing campaign based on courage, compassion, and honesty, tweeting: “This is just the beginning of his time on the national stage.”
Mr Buttigieg had sought to unite Democrats, independents and moderate Republican voters, arguing his status as a Washington outsider could rebuild a majority to defeat Republican President Donald Trump in November’s election.
But he faced persistent questions about his ability to win over black voters, a core Democratic voting bloc.
Mr Buttigieg did not make his sexuality a centrepiece of his candidacy, although his husband, Chasten Buttigieg, a teacher he married in 2018, regularly accompanied him on the campaign trail.
The race now heads to Super Tuesday, when voters in 14 states will go to the polls and present a test for the remaining Democratic candidates.