DETROIT (Reuters) – Pete Buttigieg, who entered the Democratic presidential race as a relative unknown and positioned himself as the future of the party during an improbable rise to the top tier of a crowded 2020 field, planned on Sunday to end his White House bid, a campaign aide said.
FILE PHOTO: Democratic 2020 U.S. presidential candidate former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg attends a campaign event in Raleigh, North Carolina, U.S., February 29, 2020. Picture taken February 29, 2020. REUTERS/Eric Thayer
Buttigieg, 38, a former two-term mayor from South Bend, Indiana, and an Afghanistan war veteran, 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, Buttigieg came in fourth on Saturday in South Carolina, where he won support from just 3% of African-American voters.
The centrist Democrat’s withdrawal from the race could help former Vice President Joe Biden, a fellow moderate who got a much-needed victory on Saturday and now is looking to wrest momentum from liberal front-runner Bernie Sanders in this week’s 14-state Super Tuesday nominating contests.
Buttigieg planned to announce his decision in South Bend later on Sunday, according to his campaign.
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 general election.
But he faced persistent questions about his ability to win over black voters, a core Democratic voting bloc.
Buttigieg’s tenure as South Bend mayor, which ended on Jan. 1, drew scrutiny for a lack of diversity on the local police force and a fatal shooting of a black resident by a police officer. He also did not have Biden’s national profile or long-standing relationships with the black community.
Buttigieg would have been the first openly gay major-party presidential nominee in U.S. history. He did not make his sexuality a centerpiece of his candidacy, although his husband, Chasten Buttigieg, a teacher he married in 2018, regularly accompanied him on the campaign trail.
The former mayor promised a departure from the politics of the past. As a “proud son” of Indiana, he argued he could speak directly to voters struggling economically in crucial swing states such as Michigan and Wisconsin that handed Trump the presidency in 2016.
A U.S. Navy veteran who often spoke of his military service and Christian faith on the campaign trail, Buttigieg was critical of Sanders’ uncompromising liberal proposals, which Buttigieg warned could alienate moderate Democratic voters ahead of “the fight of our lives” to unseat Trump.
At the televised debate ahead of the South Carolina primary, Buttigieg said Sanders’ shifting estimates to fund proposals such as a government-run healthcare system for all would doom the Democratic Party in November.
“I can tell you exactly how it all adds up. It adds up to four more years of Donald Trump,” Buttigieg said.
Buttigieg, who had considerable early success in fundraising, came under fire from Democratic competitors, including progressive Senator Elizabeth Warren, over the transparency of his campaign’s finances.
She questioned whether he was beholden to his big-money donors and criticized his ritzy, closed-door fundraiser in a wine cave in California.
Before Biden’s South Carolina win, Buttigieg had argued he was the only candidate who had proven he could beat Sanders in state contests. His campaign had laid out a strategy to get through Super Tuesday contests and focus on later primaries where it believed it had an edge.
But that changed as the race remained outsized and questions mounted about possibly non-viable contenders splitting moderate votes to give Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, an easy path to the nomination.
Still, his decision to drop out caught some supporters by surprise. A big crowd already had gathered on Sunday night for the candidate’s scheduled event in Dallas when they learned he was no longer coming.
Reporting by Michael Martina, Jarrett Renshaw, Joey Roulette and Eric Thayer; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Peter Cooney