Buttigieg exit signals effort to boost Biden against Sanders in Democratic brawl

In the end, Pete Buttigieg saw the writing on the wall — and realized it was time to bring an end to his White House bid.

“We have a responsibility to consider the effect of remaining in this race any further,” the former South Bend, Ind., mayor declared Sunday night in an address in his hometown as he suspended his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination.

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Those remarks signaled the underlying concern party leaders have about the trajectory of the 2020 race — that unless those candidates representing the more moderate end of the spectrum close ranks behind the most viable choice, Sen. Bernie Sanders, the independent from Vermont, could steamroll his way to become the party’s standard-bearer in November’s election. Buttigieg’s decision to drop out was an indication of efforts to boost a candidate like Joe Biden as the alternative to Sanders before the latter’s delegate lead becomes too great.

Perhaps it was no accident that Buttigieg’s announcement came less than 24 hours after former Vice President Biden’s landslide victory in South Carolina over Sanders and the rest of the field – a win that was much larger for the former vice president than expected.

Buttigieg’s move – coming just two days before a third of all Democratic nomination delegates are up or grabs in the 14 states that hold primaries on Super Tuesday – is a relief to party leaders and establishment figures. And it is likely to benefit Biden – who’s nearly pulled even with Sanders in the delegate hunt and is hoping to prevent him capturing a large lead on Tuesday in the crucial battle for delegates.

Sources close to the Buttigieg campaign confirm that the candidate held a conference call with top advisers early Sunday morning, hours after Biden’s impressive shellacking of the rest of the field.

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Buttigieg told his top lieutenants that with Biden’s resounding win, his own narrow path forward for the nomination had effectively been shut.

A few hours later, after meeting in Georgia with former President Jimmy Carter, Buttigieg hinted at the news to come that evening when he told reporters “certainly the vice president’s victory last night in South Carolina was convincing.”

A Buttigieg campaign adviser – who asked to remain anonymous in order to speak more freely – told Fox News that Buttigieg realized that while he could still pick up delegates in some of the Super Tuesday states, it would come at the expense of Biden and would likely benefit Sanders’ push to capture the nomination.

“He looked at the math. He knew the path was difficult,” the campaign aide said. “He decided to put his country and his party ahead of himself.”

Buttigieg narrowly edged Sanders in Iowa’s caucuses – although Sanders also claimed victory due to his margin in the raw popular vote. Eight days later, Buttigieg came in a close second to Sanders in New Hampshire’s primary.

But Buttigieg — who struggled to resonate with minority voters — faded as the electorate became more diverse, finishing third in Nevada’s caucuses, and was a distant fourth in Saturday’s South Carolina primary.

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As Sanders surged, Buttigieg increasingly took aim at the progressive champion, warning that the senator’s political “revolution” would lead to polarization of the Democratic Party. That argument was vividly illustrated in a Buttigieg attack ad aimed at Sanders in South Carolina which urged “instead of polarization, progress.”

While he didn’t mention either Sanders or Biden in Sunday night’s exit address, Buttigieg’s message of unity – a jab at Sanders – was crystal clear.

“We have a responsibility to consider the effect of remaining in this race any further,” Buttigieg emphasized. “We must recognize then at this point in the race, the best way to keep faith with [our] goals and ideals is to step aside and help bring our party and our country together.”

Buttigieg also took a shot at Sanders without naming him as he called for “a broad-based agenda that can truly deliver for the American people, not one that gets lost in ideology.”

Fox News has confirmed that Buttigieg had a conversation with Biden after his exit speech, though it’s not clear if he had a similar phone call with Sanders.

Buttigieg – a 38-year old Afghanistan War veteran and Rhodes Scholar who, if elected, would have become the nation’s first openly gay president – was the longest of longshots when he launched his White House bid in January of last year. But he caught fire last spring and quickly rose in the polls and in the race for campaign cash.

Now, dropping out while his campaign still had the resources and organization to carry on, Buttigieg earns some goodwill with party leaders desperate to clear the field for the former vice president after Biden’s big win in South Carolina.

Expect the pressure on Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota to amplify – as well as some nudging of former New York City mayor and multi-billionaire business and media mogul Mike Bloomberg, who’s on the ballot for the first time starting with Tuesday’s contests.

“Everyone not named Sanders or Biden has to make a really strong case for why they should remain in the race and it’s very hard for most of them to do that,” Democratic strategist Chris Moyer noted.

And Moyer, a veteran of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign and Sen. Cory Booker’s 2020 White House run, complimented Buttigieg.

“Buttigieg was wise to get out when he when he did and earn goodwill and show that he is putting as he sees it the best interests of the party and the best chances for us to beat Donald Trump ahead of his own personal ambition and he should be applauded for doing that when most people realize after it’s too late,” he emphasized.

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