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Pete Buttigieg quits Democratic presidential race

The announcement comes after a poor showing in South Carolina's Democratic primary.

Pete Buttigieg dropped out of the Democratic presidential race Sunday night, ending a campaign that enjoyed a meteoric rise and outshone those of more experienced competitors but ultimately fell short after being dogged by a lack of minority support.

Buttigieg told supporters Sunday night in South Bend, Indiana, the city he led as mayor until this year, that he no longer saw a path to victory and that he had a responsibility to "consider the effect of remaining in this race any longer."

He said his goal now was to unify the Democratic Party against President Donald Trump and "win with our values."

"We began this unlikely journey with a staff of four," he said. "No big email lists. No personal fortune. Almost nobody knew my name, and almost no one could pronounce it."

The speech came one day after Buttigieg won just 3 percent of black voters in South Carolina, according to NBC News exit polls, reinforcing concerns about his ongoing inability to win votes from one of the party's most important constituencies despite his efforts to address the issue.

A Buttigieg official said that the campaign saw "a very, very narrow path" to victory and that "we weren't where we needed to be" after South Carolina.

NBC News exit polls found that the state's electorate was 56 percent African American, making for the first majority-black primary this election cycle.

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It isn't clear whom Buttigieg's supporters will now back or whether he will endorse one of the remaining candidates. Recent polling by Morning Consult found his backers divided over their second choices: 21 percent picked Bernie Sanders, 19 percent picked Joe Biden, 19 percent liked Elizabeth Warren and 17 percent were on board with Mike Bloomberg.

Representatives of the Buttigieg and Biden campaigns have been in discussions about potentially consolidating support around the former vice president, a source with knowledge of the discussions told NBC News.

A Biden campaign official separately said Buttigieg and Biden tried to connect this afternoon and traded voicemail messages.

President Donald Trump responded with some speculation about what comes next:

Buttigieg, an Afghanistan war veteran who was seeking to become the first openly gay nominee of a major political party, won an impressive victory in Iowa and narrowly lost New Hampshire, two overwhelmingly white states. Then it fell apart in the more diverse contests — he placed third in Nevada and fourth in South Carolina, faring poorly with Latino and black voters who make up a large share of coming Super Tuesday states.

The Iowa victory made history as Buttigieg became the first millennial and the first openly gay candidate to carry a state in a major party presidential primary.

Buttigieg will end his campaign having won 26 delegates.

Ironically for a youthful candidate, Buttigieg appealed mostly to older and white voters and failed to make inroads with the party's rising constituencies of young people, Latinos and black voters.

In some ways, Buttigieg's message was a better fit for the Democratic nomination of 2004 than 2020. He poked fun at elite condescension of "flyover country" and the "American Heartland" of the Midwest. He called for deficit reduction and denounced the "revolutionary politics of the 1960s." His surrogates fondly reminisced about the TV show "The West Wing."

His throwback message was lost on younger voters. He was an AIM candidate in a TikTok world, with supporters more familiar with Billy Joel than Billie Eilish.

At just 38, he is widely seen to have a bright future and may be better served by quitting now instead of continuing to compete with rivals, one of whom he will likely end up supporting in the general election.

"He's getting out now because he doesn't believe there's a clear path, and he's practicing what he preaches: to bring the party and the country together," a second Buttigieg campaign official said.

Craig Melvin and Priscilla Thompson contributed.