(CBS) — Pete Buttigieg, the 38-year-old openly gay former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, who skyrocketed to the top of the field early in the Democratic nomination race, is dropping his presidential bid, three aides to his campaign confirmed to CBS News on Sunday. Buttigieg, the first openly gay presidential candidate, won the most delegates in the Iowa caucuses and then came in second in the New Hampshire primary, but he struggled to come up with a path forward after coming in third in Nevada and fourth in South Carolina.
Buttigieg was scheduled to attend a town hall Sunday evening in Dallas, but then announced his flight from Selma, Alabama, was being diverted to South Bend, where he planned to make an announcement. Buttigieg had just finished marching across the Edmund Pettus Bridge to commemorate the 55th anniversary of Bloody Sunday.
A Buttigieg aide said the campaign held an all-staff call when the announcement was made to staff. The aide noted that the conversation was about how proud they were of the campaign that they had run and the victories they had achieved.
It was unclear Sunday night whether Buttigieg planned to endorse any of his rivals, but Biden was considered the likely choice. A Biden aide said the two had yet to connect given that both are crossing the country on Sunday, but they have traded voicemails.
Buttigieg, the youngest presidential candidate in the race, staked his candidacy on generational change, offering voters a vision for ushering in a new generation of political leadership. He pitched himself as a Washington outsider, often telling voters that his campaign was about getting “Washington to run a little more like our best run cities and towns than the other way around.”
He also offered voters a moderate alternative to Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, which he showcased with policies on health care – “Medicare for all who want it” – and college affordability, rather than free college. Buttigieg proposed allowing Americans to opt into a government health care plan, but would also let citizens to retain their private health insurance if they preferred that option. In contrast, Sanders’ “Medicare for All” plan calls for a government run health care plan that would eliminate private health insurance.
As the nominating contests were underway, Buttigieg drew sharp contrasts with Sanders on policy and tone. He often told crowds at campaign stops that Sanders offers voters a choice between a “revolution” or the “status quo” that could risk alienating voters to build the coalition to beat President Trump.
“We can prioritize either ideological purity or inclusive victory,” Buttigieg said on the night of the Nevada caucus. “We can either call people names online or we can call them into our movement.”
Buttigieg frequently said his campaign was about building a sense of belonging and a coalition that includes engaging Democrats, Republicans and “future former Republicans.” A few days after the New Hampshire primary, Buttigieg reflected on the historic nature of his campaign.
“My belief in American belonging is reflected in my experience before you right now, as somebody who is not that removed from the memory of being a teenager in Indiana, wondering if he would ever fit in this world, wondering if something about him meant that he would always be on the outside, would never serve in uniform or in office, would never be accepted, would never even know love,” Buttigieg said at a Democratic Party dinner on Valentine’s Day in California. “And that very same person is standing in front of you leading right now in the delegate race for the nomination for the presidency.”
The former South Bend mayor had strong performances in Iowa and New Hampshire, states with a predominantly white population, but his message failed to resonate with the majority of minority voters. Buttigieg argued on the campaign trail that performing well in Iowa and New Hampshire would demonstrate his ability to win. And with the strong finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire, he argued that minority voters would give his candidacy a second look.
However, his theory of the race was not ultimately proven. He received just 2% support from black voters and 12% support from Hispanic voters in Nevada, according to CBS News entrance polling data.
Similarly in South Carolina, where approximately 60% of the Democratic primary electorate are African American voters, Buttigieg received 3% support from black voters, according to CBS News exit polling data.
Buttigieg and his campaign suffered some missteps in their outreach to the African-American community during the election cycle, including the use of a stock photo of a Kenyan woman on a page of his campaign website when he released his plan to end systemic racism in the U.S.
And his record as South Bend mayor and his complex relationship with law enforcement were under some scrutiny after a white police officer fatally shot Eric Logan, a black South Bend resident, in June 2019.
Although he struggled with minority voters, the millennial veteran nonetheless impressed a number of voters with his call for generational change and his quick intellect. In the second quarter of 2019, Buttigieg prioritized fundraising and posted the top fundraising number for the quarter, displaying his fundraising prowess among high-dollar donors and grassroots donors.
Buttigieg’s campaign heavily invested in Iowa and New Hampshire by expanding its ground operation in the first two nominating contests. The campaign focused on relational organizing, which emphasized building out personal networks, rather than traditional organizing strategies. And Buttigieg’s campaign offered substantial access to the candidate with three bus tours with press: two in Iowa and one in New Hampshire. But his team was slower to grow its operation in Nevada and South Carolina, states with more diverse, dispersed electorates.
After meeting with former President Jimmy Carter and former first lady Rosalynn Carter Sunday morning in Plains, Georgia, Buttigieg told reporters that he wants to make sure his run for president is “useful” and is heading in the “right direction.”
“Every day, we get up, we assess where we are and we look at how we can be making the biggest contribution to the future and every day that we’ve been running this campaign has been based on our belief that our campaign’s message is the right one,” Buttigieg said Sunday morning.
This is a breaking story. It will be updated.