Sean Shaw lost a hard-fought race for Florida’s attorney general in 2018, but he was more upset as he watched Pete Buttigieg drop out of the presidential race Sunday night.
The timing shocked him, Shaw told the Tampa Bay Times. Buttigieg is third in the delegate race heading into Super Tuesday. Less than a month ago, the former South Bend, Ind. mayor was soaring after a win in Iowa and close second-place finish in New Hampshire. Why now? Shaw wondered.
“I need some time to grieve,” said Shaw, who added he’s not ready to endorse one of the remaining candidates.
The Tampa Democrat was one of Buttigieg’s earliest supporters and even traveled the country these past 10 months to campaign for him. In the early days, when Buttigieg was celebrated as a brilliant and trailblazing gay candidate, Shaw relished being on the side of a fresh face everyone seemed to like. He was a Buttigieg supporter “before it was cool," he remembers thinking.
But as the race went on, and Buttigieg was showered in media attention and campaign cash, Shaw sensed a shift. The response to Buttigieg’s unexpected staying power grew almost visceral from liberal activists and other voices in the Democratic party, especially on Twitter.
“There was this segment that didn’t respond to him and didn’t like him,” Shaw said. “I don’t know why. It was strange to me. It was a very strong negative reaction.”
Buttigieg was also unable to gain traction with black voters, and that showed in South Carolina, where he finished a distant fourth in the first southern state.
Even his efforts at outreach were not always well-received in African American communities. Last week, Buttigieg joined a Charleston rally to raise the minimum wage to $15 and marched with demonstrators to a local McDonalds. Black Voters Matter activists protested Buttigieg’s involvement and they accused the Democratic candidate of using the march and black workers for a photo op. He then ducked out of the protest and into a black SUV, while activists shouted after him.
Shaw, who is black and a former state representative, said it was an uphill climb with African American voters from the beginning. They were unfamiliar and distrustful of Buttigieg and gravitated instead toward former vice president Joe Biden, who won 61 percent of black voters en route to clinching the South Carolina primary.
“I think he has to demonstrate that he’s willing to spend time in those communities listening, and that he wants to put in the work it takes to get well known in our community,” Shaw said. “Pete has to build some of those relationships from scratch. He didn’t have enough time to do it. He has to show people that he really cares and it wasn’t just a campaign photo op.”
Shaw added: “I believe he was authentic. He has to show everyone else he was, too.”
Buttigieg ended his campaign before Super Tuesday, when 14 states will vote in a race that is shaping into a showdown between Biden and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. Ex-New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg will also be on the ballot for the first time, and he has spend hundreds of millions of dollars playing catch up in those states. Minneapolis Sen. Amy Klobuchar dropped out of the race Monday.
In bowing out, Buttigieg’s seemed critical of Sanders’ brand of politics and urged the party to get behind a candidate that can advance “a broad based agenda that can truly deliver for the American people, not one that gets lost in ideology.”
“We have a responsibility to consider the effect of remaining in this race any further,” Buttigieg said Sunday night. “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.”
Shaw called Buttigieg’s exit “selfless." And he expects Buttigeig, just 38 years old, to have a long future in Democratic politics.
"I was telling someone last week, ‘This isn’t the last time Pete is going to campaign in South Carolina,’ " Shaw said.