Pete Buttigieg drops out of Democratic presidential race

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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.
Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg attends a campaign event in Raleigh, North Carolina, US, on Feb 29, 2020. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) - Pete Buttigieg is ending his presidential campaign, people close to his campaign said on Sunday (March 1).

The path for the young, ex-mayor of a small Indiana city became improbable after disappointing finishes in the Nevada caucuses and South Carolina primary.

Despite gaining more delegates than front-runner Bernie Sanders in Iowa, Buttigieg, 38, failed to catch on with non-white voters.

On the campaign trail, Buttigieg presented himself as a representative of a younger generation ready to take over from septuagenarians such as Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden.

He also touted his service as a Navy intelligence officer, including his duty in Afghanistan, which he said gave him credibility on national security. He won the Iowa caucuses and placed second in New Hampshire but had trouble in the next two states, where non-white voters came into play.

Buttigieg placed third in Nevada. And he came in fourth in South Carolina, with just 2 per cent support from African Americans, who account for majority of the state's Democratic voters.

He failed to build a diverse base of support because he was known for firing the African-American police and fire chiefs in South Bend, Indiana where he was mayor.

Buttigieg's biography made him something of a wunderkind among the Democratic contenders. He graduated from Harvard University and then was a Rhodes Scholar. He was the youngest mayor of a city with a population over 100,000 when he was elected at age 29 and is a veteran of the war in Afghanistan.

He was also the first openly gay presidential candidate to win delegates toward the nomination.

Mayoral Approach

Buttigieg came out as gay while running for re-election for mayor, which he won handily, and his husband Chasten joined him on the presidential campaign trail.

The candidate's cerebral approach to issues drew an enthusiastic response with some audiences but failed to connect with the wider Democratic electorate. Though he was able to fund raise large amounts - he brought in the second-biggest haul of any candidate in 2019 behind Sanders - by the end of his run the campaign was bleeding cash.

His lack of experience beyond the local level drew scrutiny from other candidates in a race hyper-focused on electability and unseating President Donald Trump. Buttigieg had lost his bid for state treasurer of Indiana in 2010 and in 2017 withdrew his bid for chair of the Democratic National Committee on the day of the election.

A super PAC backing Senator Cory Booker poked fun of the candidates' similar resumes in an ad.

Booker also was a Rhodes Scholar and served as mayor of Newark, New Jersey, a city with more than twice the population of South Bend, before becoming a US senator.

"He's a Rhodes Scholar. A successful mayor. A uniter," the ad began before flashing to an image of Buttigieg. "No, not that guy. It's Cory Booker."

Buttigieg played up his youth as an asset, offering himself as a candidate for generational change.

'Different Perspective'

"I bring a different perspective," Buttigieg said in a January debate in Des Moines, Iowa. "There are enlisted people that I served with, barely old enough to remember those votes on the authorisation after 9/11, on the war in Iraq. There are people now old enough to enlist who were not alive during those debates."

Buttigieg was handicapped by lack of support from African-Americans, a key Democratic constituency. He had fired South Bend's first black police chief who had been recording telephone calls of other officers allegedly making racist remarks in 2012. The officer later sued for racial discrimination.

The racial tensions in South Bend only intensified in June 2019 when an officer shot and killed a black man. Buttigieg briefly left the campaign trail to return to South Bend to address the crisis.

As the campaign went on, Buttigieg also received criticism for pivoting mid-race from positing himself as a progressive to a moderate, younger alternative to Joe Biden.

He previously expressed support for Medicare for All but then campaigned for "Medicare For All Who Want It," which would allow for private insurance in addition to public options.

Nationally Buttigieg averaged 5 to 8 per cent in the RealClearPolitics average, peaking at 11.8 per cent in late November. He had no trouble raising money. In the entirety of 2019 Buttigieg brought in US$76.2 million.

Now, Buttigieg is a former mayor and former presidential candidate who hasn't set out his future course in or out of politics.

Buttigieg, 38, gained traction after a CNN Town Hall in March where he criticized Vice-President Mike Pence's fundamentalist interpretation of Christianity. Pence served as governor of Indiana while Buttigieg was mayor of South Bend, Indiana.

"His interpretation of scripture is pretty different than mine to begin with," Buttigieg said in March. "My understanding of scripture is that it's about protecting the stranger and the prisoner and the poor person and that idea. That's what I get in the gospel when I'm at church and his has a lot more to do with sexuality."

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