SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg is ending his presidential bid, a campaign aide confirmed Sunday to CNN.
Buttigieg’s campaign was a barrier breaker: The former mayor became the first gay candidate to earn presidential primary delegates for a major party’s nomination.
But Buttigieg’s campaign struggled to nationalize its operation after success in Iowa and New Hampshire. The former mayor’s struggles to win over voters of color, a key base to the Democratic Party, proved insurmountable in Nevada and South Carolina, two states where Buttigieg finished significantly behind the race’s frontrunners. And the mayor’s lack of momentum heading into Super Tuesday sunk the upstart campaign.
The mayor’s top advisers believed that a win in Iowa could provide Buttigieg with enough momentum to turn in strong performances in both New Hampshire and Nevada. That success, they believed, would be followed by a fundraising boost, allowing them to nationalize the campaign by the time Super Tuesday rolled around in early March.
That strategy, however, ran into numerous issues. The results of the Iowa caucuses were repeatedly delayed due to mistakes by the state party, denying Buttigieg the ability to fully tout that he won more national delegates out of the state than any other candidate.
And one of Buttigieg’s primary opponents, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, delivered a strong debate performance before the New Hampshire primary and turned in a surprising third-place finish in the state, possibly siphoning votes from the mayor.
Overarching all of these issues, too, was former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the hundreds of millions he was spending on his campaign. Bloomberg provided voters yet another alternative to consider, thwarting Buttigieg’s attempt to coalesce moderate Democrats.
Buttigieg entered the 2020 race as a relative unknown, launching his exploratory committee from a windowless conference room in Washington, DC.
“The case here is simple,” Buttigieg said at the time. “It is time for a new generation of leadership in our county.”
For months, the candidate toiled in obscurity, one of nearly two-dozen Democrats running for the chance to take on President Donald Trump. But Buttigieg got his break after a CNN town hall in Austin, Texas, last March introduced Democratic voters to the young mayor, leading to a steady climb in polls and a significant boost to his fundraising.
“It reminded me of early Obama and the shooting-fish-in-a-barrel phenomenon,” Rep. Don Beyer of Virginia, Buttigieg’s first congressional endorser, said at the time. “Everyone I called (to ask for money) said yes.”
Buttigieg officially launched his campaign in April with an event that used his hometown — South Bend, Indiana — as a character in his presidential pitch. His campaign picked the hollowed interior of the once-bustling Studebaker plant as the site of his launch, a visual symbol of the struggles his city has faced.
“There’s a long way for us to go. Life here is far from perfect. But we’ve changed our trajectory and shown a path forward for communities like ours. And that’s why I’m here today,” Buttigieg said as rain audibly beat down on the steel roof above him and as the lectern in front of him visibly took on water.
Buttigieg raised more than $80 million during his 2020 run, including impressive $25 million hauls in the second quarter of 2019 that allowed the former mayor to invest heavily in Iowa, a state where he and his top aides believed his Midwestern roots, veteran status and focus on faith could build a broad coalition of support across the state.
But Buttigieg’s money was not everlasting. The campaign entered February with just $6.6 million in the bank and they struggled to hit their goal of raising $13 million in the weeks leading up to Super Tuesday.
Part of the problem was small-dollar donors. The percentage of Buttigieg’s fundraising from small-dollar donors — over time — has fallen from 65% in early 2019 to just 29% in January, according to his financial filings.
Some of Buttigieg’s early momentum was also stalled by persistent questions about his ties to communities of color, an issue that was highlighted in June when black South Bend resident Eric Logan was shot and killed by a police officer. The subsequent protests forced Buttigieg off the campaign trail for nearly a week, including skipping a key campaign event in South Carolina, and further revealed the existential problem if his campaign.
“Maybe the level of attention on this will help us do some good,” a visibly emotional Buttigieg told reporters after a particularly contentious June town hall in South Bend over the police shooting. “Because everybody has got to be a part of it. There is just no running away from it, not for me.”
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