Pete Buttigieg, who went farther in the presidential race than any other openly gay candidate, is ending his run, The Washington Post reports.
The former mayor of South Bend, Ind., ended his campaign Sunday, a day after finishing fourth in the South Carolina Democratic presidential primary. His finish showed he had little support among African-American voters, a key Democratic constituency.
Still, the quick end to his campaign was a surprise. He had won the most delegates in the Iowa caucus, although Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont won the popular vote there, and he finished second to Sanders in the New Hampshire primary and came in fourth, after Sanders, former Vice President Joe Biden, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, in last weekend's Nevada caucus. He and his husband, Chasten, had just appeared Sunday with other Democratic candidates at a commemoration of the 55th anniversary of the historic civil rights march in Selma, Ala.
About 8:30 p.m. Eastern time, A few hours after the initial reports of his withdrawal hit the news, Buttigieg addressed his supporters in South Bend, having been introduced by his husband. He said one of his campaign's key values is truth, and "the truth is the path has narrowed to a close." Therefore, it's time for him to step aside, he said.
He did not endorse any other candidate, although he's reportedly been in touch with Biden. But he promised to stay involved in the effort to defeat Donald Trump. "I will do everything in my power to assure that we have a new Democratic president come January," Buttigieg said. He also stressed the importance of down-ballot races, especially the need to defeat Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Senate majority leader. McConnell has stalled much progressive legislation passed by the Democratic-majority U.S. House, including the Equality Act, a sweeping LGBTQ rights measure.
Buttigieg did not mention LGBTQ issues specifically in his address, instead emphasizing the need to bring Americans together against Trump and create a new kind of inclusive politics. But he said he hoped his campaign was an inspiration to any child who felt they would be left out because of something that marks them as different.
He closed by thanking his competitors, the people of South Bend, his campaign workers, and his family, including Chasten. “I can’t wait to spend the rest of my life with you,” Buttigieg told his husband.
Buttigieg was not the first out gay major-party candidate for president — that distinction went to Fred Karger, who sought the Republican nomination in 2012. But Buttigieg was the first to appear on a debate stage, and he made history by sharing his coming-out story in that forum.
He served two terms as mayor of South Bend and came out while running for his second term in 2015. His husband frequently appeared with him at campaign events. During the campaign they weathered homophobia, with right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh saying a gay man who kisses his husband onstage couldn't compete with Donald Trump, and an Iowa caucus participant trying to rescind her vote after learning Buttigieg was gay. The candidate also received criticism from some on the left who thought him too moderate, too beholden to wealthy donors, and perhaps not gay enough. And he failed to catch on with Black voters, having had some difficulties with Black constituents in South Bend.
He had the support of the LGBTQ Victory Fund, which works to elect out candidates to office. “Pete’s candidacy for the U.S. presidency is a revolution in American politics,” Elliot Imse, senior director of communications at Victory Fund, told The Advocate Sunday. “Never before have we seen someone who is openly LGBTQ run at such a high level and attract people from such diverse places in the United States. It is very sad that Pete dropped out tonight. We think he would be the best person for president of the United States, but at the same time, our community should be very proud at the fact that an openly LGBTQ person can run at that level. We know we will see an openly LGBTQ president in the next couple cycles.”
GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis tweeted and issued the following statement: “Pete Buttigieg’s campaign was historic and he showed the world that Americans are ready to accept and embrace qualified LGBTQ public leaders. His candidacy came after decades of LGBTQ Americans fighting to be heard, be visible, and have a place in the American experience. Pete’s success will no doubt lead to more LGBTQ candidates in political races large and small.”
Biden, who easily won the South Carolina primary Saturday, stands to benefit the most from Buttigieg's exit. Buttigieg, Biden, Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg had positioned themselves as moderate alternatives to the surging Sanders and to some extent to Warren. The moderates have differed with the farther-left candidates on such matters as health insurance, favoring a public option while maintaining private policies, rather than a government-run program for all Americans. Virtually all the Democrats have taken supportive positions on LGBTQ rights, although Bloomberg and Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii have made problematic statements in the past. Gabbard is still in the race but has failed to gain much support.
Buttigieg's announcement came two days before Super Tuesday, when 14 states, one territory, and Democrats living abroad will vote in primaries. That includes the delegate-rich states of California and Texas.
Watch a clip of Buttigieg's exit speech below.