US Democratic presidential candidate Mayor Pete Buttigieg speaks at a grassroots event on Friday, June 14, 2019, in Alexandria, Va. (Photo: AP)
Pete Buttigieg, who rose from being a small-town Midwestern mayor to a barrier-breaking, top-tier candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, is ending his campaign.
Three people with knowledge of Buttigieg’s decision told The Associated Press he began informing campaign staff on Sunday. They were not authorized to speak publicly and requested anonymity.
His campaign said Buttigieg will speak Sunday night in South Bend, Indiana.
The decision came just a day after one of Buttigieg’s leading rivals, former Vice President Joe Biden, scored a resounding victory in South Carolina that sparked new pressure on the party’s moderate wing to coalesce behind Biden.
Buttigieg had been critical of Biden, charging that the 77-year-old lifelong politician was out of step with today’s politics. But his criticism had shifted in recent days more toward front-runner Bernie Sanders, a polarizing progressive who was benefiting from the sheer number of candidates dividing up the moderate vote.
Buttigieg, the first openly gay candidate to seriously contend for the presidency, tried to make the case that his party thrived when it embraced candidates who offered generational change. But the 38-year-old Afghanistan war veteran ended up being more successful at winning older voters while Sanders, 78, captured the energy of younger ones.
Voters saw Buttigieg in the more moderate lane of the Democratic field, and he flourished early with a top finish in the Iowa caucuses and a close second place finish in New Hampshire. But as the race moved to more diverse states, less dependent on college-educated voters, Buttigieg struggled.
His departure from the race reflected the growing pressuring among more moderate Democrats to consolidate in an effort to blunt the rise of Sanders, who Buttigeig said was too liberal to be elected.
Despite robust organizations in Iowa and New Hampshire and supporters who included an influx of former independents and Republicans, Buttigieg failed to overcome daunting questions about his ability to draw African American support key to the Democratic base.
As mayor of a city that is 25% black, Buttigieg faced criticism for firing the first African American police chief in the history of South Bend and for his handling of the case of a white police officer who fatally shot an armed black man in June.
After his unexpected rise to contention in Iowa and New Hampshire last fall, Buttigieg became the target of Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren for the high-dollar fundraisers he was hosting, notably one in a wine cave in California.
Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar also went at Buttigieg in the months before the caucuses for lacking national experience. She noted that he had lost his only statewide race as a candidate for Indiana treasurer in 2010, while she had won three statewide terms in Minnesota in part by carrying Republican-heavy regions.
Buttigieg presented a starkly different figure on the debate stage than the other leading candidates — all septuagenarians — and drew admirers for his calm, reasoned demeanor and rhetorical skills that reflected his Harvard-trained, Rhodes scholar background but that some voters and operatives described as “robotic.”
Buttigieg had modeled his campaign somewhat on that of former President Barack Obama, who won the 2008 Iowa caucuses largely based on a message of unity and by drawing in a healthy bloc of first-time caucus participants, often the key in a crowded, high-turnout contest.