Pete Buttigieg Drops Out of Democratic Primary Race

Former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg attends a campaign event in Rock Hill, S.C., February 27, 2020. (Eric Thayer/Reuters)

Pete Buttigieg is leaving the presidential race. His decision comes as a surprise; this morning, his campaign was still urging supporters to get out the vote on Super Tuesday.

A decent number of Buttigieg supporters are now up for grabs in the Super Tuesday states. Buttigieg is at 13.3 percent in the RealClearPolitics polling average of Massachusetts, 13 percent in Colorado, 11.5 percent in Virginia, 9.5 percent California, 7.5 percent in Texas, 6.8 percent in North Carolina.

(As of Thursday, more than 2.7 million voters in California had returned ballots in early voting. Hope they didn’t vote for Tom Steyer or Pete Buttigieg.)

Last week, Morning Consult asked Buttigieg supporters who their second choice was and found them splitting pretty evenly: Sanders 21 percent, Joe Biden 19 percent, Warren 19 percent, and Mike Bloomberg 17 percent. If Buttigieg supporters do split that way, each of those four candidates would get another 2 to 3 percent, which could put some of them above the 15 percent threshold in certain states.

Does the Iowa caucus really matter anymore? Most of the past few Democratic presidential primaries haven’t been that competitive, obscuring how little this first contest affected the others. Hillary Clinton won Iowa by just a handful of votes in 2016 and went on to win the nomination; the overall popular vote across all states wasn’t as close at the race seemed, with Clinton getting 55 percent and Sanders getting 43 percent. Barack Obama’s win in 2008 and John Kerry’s win in 2004 were consequential. Al Gore dunked on Bill Bradley in 2000, and Bill Clinton faced no real competitor in 1996. Biden’s huge win in South Carolina suggests that early-state wins don’t really matter very much.

One could argue that the inability of Iowa’s Democratic Party to count the votes and announce a winner on Election Night cost Buttigieg a lot of his momentum, but he finished a close second in New Hampshire, and that didn’t seem to translate into any growth in support in Nevada or South Carolina. If you’re an Indiana mayor whose base of support is among “wine track” Democrats, what’s the next state that looks good for you? Michigan on March 10? Missouri? Washington?

Still, as disappointed as Buttigieg and his supporters must be this evening, they should be proud of how an unknown mayor of a not-terribly-large city, in his late 30s — who, oh, by the way, happens to be the first openly gay presidential candidate since Fred Karger — managed to be a major player in the first month of this presidential race. Lots of better-known senators and governors didn’t come anywhere close to that.

At the end of December, I wrote:

The Democratic presidential primary that had seemingly everyone running turned into the primary where almost no one could stand out. If you wanted the Democratic nomination this cycle, you needed to arrive with your national fanbase already established like Biden, Sanders, and eventually Warren. There was one glaring exception — South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg.

The mayor is the single-clearest refutation of the complaint that the process somehow created insurmountable obstacles for new faces. The window of opportunity for lesser-known figures to get taken seriously was only open a crack, but Buttigieg squeezed through and is, so far, making the most of his opportunity.

With Buttigieg’s departure, Sam Stein observes that Joe Biden is now the youngest man in the Democratic presidential primary field.

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