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A Look Back At The Now-Suspended Presidential Campaign Of 'Mayor Pete'


Former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg endorsed former Vice President Joe Biden for president tonight. Buttigieg had suspended his presidential campaign last night after a disappointing result in South Carolina this weekend on top of a poor showing a week earlier in Nevada. But Buttigieg created a campaign that far exceeded early expectations. In fact, it made history. NPR's Don Gonyea looks back at the journey of the candidate often called simply Mayor Pete.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Let's start with the name. There was a steep learning curve. It was Pete who? There were T-shirts with bold letters - the word boot followed by edge and edge again. This is from CNN.


JAKE TAPPER: How do you pronounce your last name?


TAPPER: Buttigieg.

BUTTIGIEG: Yeah. Say that three times fast. Either way, it comes out Buttigieg.

TAPPER: So boot edge edge, not Buddha judge?

BUTTIGIEG: Either way, it gets you there.

GONYEA: And there were three other big biographical details. His age - he was 37 when he started running. He's a military veteran. He served in Afghanistan. And he's a married gay man. That last thing often came up in the context of his Christian faith. Almost a year ago at a town hall on CNN, he was asked about a fellow politician from Indiana, Vice President Mike Pence, and differences between Pence's faith and his own.


BUTTIGIEG: How could he allow himself to become the cheerleader of the porn star presidency? Is it that he stopped believing in Scripture when he started believing in Donald Trump? I don't know. I don't know.


GONYEA: The moment went viral. And suddenly, his events, especially in Iowa, were packed, some drawing over 1,500 attendees. People suddenly knew his name. His poll numbers climbed, too. And Pete Buttigieg was now in the top tier of candidates.

He evolved over time. Early on, his positions were more progressive. He advocated for "Medicare for All" without any caveats. Later, he backed away from that. And then at a debate, he went after Elizabeth Warren on her lack of details around her proposal.


BUTTIGIEG: Your signature, senator, is to have a plan for everything, except this. No plan has been laid out to explain how a multitrillion-dollar hole in this Medicare for All plan that Senator Warren is putting forward is supposed to get filled in.

GONYEA: Support grew. Then in Iowa, even amid the confusion of the vote counting, he used his caucus night rally to essentially declare victory. Another strong showing in New Hampshire. His supporters tended to be older and - a real problem - they were overwhelmingly white. That was a barrier in the next two contests, Nevada and South Carolina. In debates and town halls, he often acknowledged shortcomings in dealing with concerns of African American citizens as mayor of South Bend. This is from a rally in Las Vegas.


BUTTIGIEG: There were also a lot of times we didn't get it right. There were things I could not see because I don't have the lived experience of being treated differently because of the color of my skin.

GONYEA: After Senator Bernie Sanders' big win in Nevada, Buttigieg gave a stern warning about nominating a candidate who is too far to the left. And last night, in dropping out, he called for unity among Democrats. But there was also this.


BUTTIGIEG: We need leadership to heal a divided nation, not drive us further apart. We need a broad-based agenda that can truly deliver for the American people, not one that gets lost in ideology.

GONYEA: Speaking in his hometown of South Bend, he looked back at a year of defying expectations and used the moment to cite the historic nature of his campaign.


BUTTIGIEG: And we sent a message to every kid out there wondering if whatever marks them out as different means they are somehow destined to be less than - to see that someone who once felt that exact same way can become a leading American presidential candidate with his husband at his side.


GONYEA: Many will be watching him as someone with a viable future in presidential politics. And should Buttigieg run again, he'll be able to skip the part about teaching people how to say his name.

Don Gonyea, NPR News.


You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.