What Will Pete Do? Buttigieg Is Reportedly Mulling An Endorsement

WESTERVILLE, OHIO - OCTOBER 15: South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg and former Vice President Joe Biden shake hands after the Democratic Presidential Debate at Otterbein University on October 15, 2019 in Westerv... WESTERVILLE, OHIO - OCTOBER 15: South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg and former Vice President Joe Biden shake hands after the Democratic Presidential Debate at Otterbein University on October 15, 2019 in Westerville, Ohio. A record 12 presidential hopefuls are participating in the debate hosted by CNN and The New York Times. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images) MORE LESS
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March 2, 2020 10:47 a.m.

When former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg announced the end of his presidential campaign Sunday, one question arose: Will he endorse former Vice President Joe Biden before 14 states weigh in on “Super Tuesday,” thus fundamentally changing the nature of the Democratic presidential contest?

Buttigieg and Biden have somewhat similar politics, and CNN reported Monday that a Buttigieg endorsement of Biden was “likely,” citing two unnamed people close to Buttigieg. Reuters also reported Monday, per an advisor, that Buttigieg planned to endorse Biden.

The endorsement from Buttigieg could empower Biden and blunt Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) campaign, which outperformed Biden in the first three states to vote. The Vermont senator is currently the favorite in several Super Tuesday states including the two states with the most delegates to award, California and Texas. Biden’s landslide win Saturday in the fourth early voting state, South Carolina, reinvigorated his campaign and led to Buttigieg bowing out.

Biden’s campaign hopes he emerges from Tuesday as the singular candidate with a chance at beating Sanders, thus effectively marginalizing Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg and creating a one-on-one race.

“A Pete endorsement of Biden today potentially can not only help Biden against Bloomberg, but it also could potentially move some Warren fence-sitters over to Biden’s camp as well,” John Della Volpe, polling director at the Harvard Institute of Politics, told TPM Monday.

Both CNN and The New York Times have reported that Buttigieg and former President Barack Obama spoke after Buttigieg’s concession speech Sunday. Per the Times, which cited an unnamed Democratic official, Obama did not encourage Buttigieg to endorse Biden. Rather, Obama simply noted that Buttigieg had “considerable leverage,” in the Times’ words, and that he should consider how to use it.

Also, per the Times, Biden asked for Buttigieg’s endorsement over the phone following Buttigieg’s concession. Buttigieg reportedly responded that he would consider the request.

The former South Bend mayor dropped out of the race Sunday after a disappointing fourth place finish in South Carolina, the last early voting state before Super Tuesday. CNN previously reported that Buttigieg dropped out due to an unwillingness to fuel an “insurmountable” delegate lead for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) on Tuesday.

Candidates with 15% or more of the statewide vote get a portion of a statewide pool of delegates; the same applies at the congressional district level, with candidates who pass the 15% threshold in each congressional district getting a portion of that district’s delegates.

“That support from Buttigieg to Biden could strengthen that threshold argument in essentially every congressional district in the country, I would argue, in combination with Saturday’s result,” Della Volpe said.

Some Democrats worried that if Buttigieg stayed in the race through Super Tuesday, his middle-of-the-road politics would have split the vote in several states and congressional districts with the leading moderate, Biden. As a result, Biden may have lost out on delegates due to falling below 15% in those areas.

If Buttigieg endorses Biden ahead of Super Tuesday, voters who supported both candidates — but not the more left-wing Sanders — would have a clear signal: Throw your weight behind the Vice President in order to avoid Sanders being the only candidate with 15% support in some areas.

That logic applies to delegate rich states like California, too; Currently, Sanders is far ahead in the state according to polling averages, with Biden, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg each within a few points of the 15% threshold statewide.

A Buttigieg endorsement could change that in an instant.

This post has been updated.

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