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In the last couple of days, in the wake of the South Carolina primary, first Pete Buttigieg & now Amy Klobuchar have "suspended" their campaigns. This has come notably just before Super Tuesday, where about a third of all delegates are allocated.

What could the benefit possibly be to these now ex-candidates of pulling out of the race just days before this key event? Surely it would make more sense to wait and see if a change in their fortunes on Tuesday, however unlikely, could re-energise their campaigns?

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    The point is to try and deprive Bernie Sanders of as many delegates as possible. That is why Buttigieg and Klobuchar has dropped out but not Warren, even though she has performed worse than Buttigieg. Warren is believed to siphon votes from Sanders so it makes sense to keep her in the race. – Björn Lindqvist Mar 3 at 10:32
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    @BjörnLindqvist But it's not like anyone is 'keeping her in the race', is it? She decided not to suspend her campaign, it's not like the Democratic establishment is forcing her to do that. – tim Mar 3 at 10:52
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    @BjornLindqvist, there is an argument to be made that Warren staying in the race is better for Sanders, if she endorses him at the convention. See this article. – Kai Mar 3 at 19:05
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    @Kai I honestly would chalk it up as disinformation. Nothing indicates that she would be willing to pledge her delegates to him especially since she has admitted to staying in the race to "blunt Sanders momentum." But most of her voters have Sanders as their second choice so having them believe she will go with Bernie over Biden is a smart strategy. That way they won't feel as they are wasting their vote by voting for her. – Björn Lindqvist Mar 3 at 19:20
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    @WoJ: As long as we're armchair-rehabilitating the US political system, let's change the way we count votes to the STV system. – Robert Harvey Mar 4 at 20:05
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At least in the case of Pete Buttigieg, his recent statements seem to make pretty clear that he's stopped to provide room for Biden to overtake Sanders.

CNN coverage

"When I ran for president we made it clear that the whole idea was about rallying the country together to defeat Donald Trump and to win the era for the values that we share," Buttigieg said at a campaign stop.

"And that was always a goal that was much bigger than me becoming president and it is in the name of that very same goal that I am delighted to endorse and support Joe Biden for President."

The endorsement is a boon for the former vice president, and comes at the same time that Amy Klobuchar is ending her campaign and backing Biden. The Minnesota senator will officially make her endorsement on Monday night in Dallas, too, a campaign aide told CNN.

The endorsements represent a coalescing of the more moderate wing of the Democratic Party around Biden and a rejection of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who -- after strong showings in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada -- represents the most significant challenge for Biden.

There have been numerous articles about the concerns of Democratic Party leaders about Sanders' ability to beat Trump, and what that could mean longer term.

The NYTimes has an article that shows Sanders will not get an automatic nod if he arrives at the party conference with a plurality rather than a majority of delegates. In terms of how this then plays back to the wider public it is obviously better if Sanders' is only narrowly ahead rather than way out in front of a divided "moderate" vote.

And fairly obviously Buttigieg is quite young. Dropping out before things get too heated gains him support within the party and positions him for the future.

While Buttigieg may have failed to win outright in 2020, the fact that he made it as far as he did is a remarkable success. He went from being a nobody nationally to a household name among Democratic primary voters — a result that bodes well for the 38-year-old’s likely long future in Democratic politics.

As the comments have noted, both Klobuchar and Bloomberg (who dropped out immediately after Super Tuesday) have explicitly endorsed Biden. Bloomberg's quote seems the most direct

"I’ve always believed that defeating Donald Trump starts with uniting behind the candidate with the best shot to do it. After yesterday’s vote, it is clear that candidate is my friend and a great American, Joe Biden," Bloomberg said in a statement.

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    Not worth of a separate answer, but Klobuchar has also (explicitly) endorsed Biden now bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-51716348 – Fizz Mar 3 at 16:49
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    I think your first two paragraphs after the quote are redundant and somewhat distracting. Both dropouts are more closely aligned with Biden on policy so they accomplish more political goals if they help Biden win election, irrespective of whether the alternative would be Sanders or Trump. Per your last paragraph, they don't even personally need to care what the next presidency looks like because in any case Biden has more allies worth winning favor with. And the brokered convention question is redundant as the dropouts put Biden in the lead for winning a even a plurality. – Will Mar 3 at 18:02
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    Curious, because I've heard this several places but haven't seen a reason: why is Biden supported by the Democratic establishment? Is it believed that he can defeat Trump but Sanders can't? I have heard pundits break down Bernie 2020 v. Trump 2016 and there are some similarities that sound like they could make Bernie a competitive candidate. What am I missing? – ribs2spare Mar 3 at 18:50
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    @ribs2spare Biden is appealing to the establishment Democrats' (highly wealthy) donor base, because he's a known quantity who's played ball with them forever; while Sanders is seen by them as extremely threatening. Protestations of "winning in the general" aside, this group would rather maintain power in the party at the cost of losing the presidency, than have a Sanders administration which could operate independently of them. – Tiercelet Mar 3 at 19:30
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    @Jontia that's my point - it specifies the motivations too narrowly. Any given Democratic party member could believe Sanders to be the stronger head-to-head contender against Trump and think that winning the Convention from second place is a lost cause but still favor Biden to win more delegates. – Will Mar 3 at 20:41
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Most of the answers are good ones, but they fail to acknowledge the political/tactical reason for dropping out BEFORE Super Tuesday.

That reason? The 15% threshold.

Democratic primary rules dictate that a candidate must receive at least 15% of the state's votes in order to get any delegates at all, and the delegates are proportionately divvied out as if those less-than-15% people weren't even in the race. So in states like Minnesota and Maine where Biden is polling around 10%, those 10% of Biden voters would basically have their votes thrown away. Allowing Biden to overtake that 15% threshold in every state on Super Tuesday means that Biden can totally overtake Sanders by bleeding off delegates.

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    Note, though, that some of the vote for these now-withdrawn candidates is already "locked in" due to early voting. Klobuchar had enough support in her home state of Minnesota that the early votes already cast for her are likely to still net her some delegates tonight. – Michael Seifert Mar 3 at 21:48
  • @MichaelSeifert In some states you can change an early vote if your candidate dropped out. – Barmar Mar 3 at 21:58
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    @Barmar: I did not know that. Looks like the deadline in Minnesota has passed, though. – Michael Seifert Mar 3 at 22:04
  • @MichaelSeifert In Massachusetts I think the deadline was yesterday. Sunday night our news reports reminded people that they could change their votes on Monday. – Barmar Mar 3 at 22:08
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In addition to wanting to consolidate the "moderate" field, there is the fact that this is also a political favor to the rest of the field that may pay dividends later. Both Biden and Sanders will benefit from the fact that there's new voters in play.

In 2016, Ben Carson dropped out after Super Tuesday. He was in much the same boat as Buttigieg and Klobuchar, with poor polling. He would endorse Ted Cruz, who did not ultimately win the nomination. After Trump won, Carson was named Housing and Urban Development secretary.

If any Democrat wins the Presidency, they may find a new home in their administration. If Biden himself wins, they may find themselves in a cabinet position. This is common to both parties.

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    That was in fact the first of four Super Tuesdays in the Republican primaries. A lot of Republican candidates did not drop out of the race after the first one. Some think that the remaining candidates not dropping out and rapidly coalescing around one moderate was a big (but not sole) factor for Trump's ultimate victory in the Primaries. He had essentially total domination over the far right wing voters early, but the the more moderate voices were splintered over several candidates. By the time they acknowledged their failure, it was too late and Trump was in total control. – zibadawa timmy Mar 4 at 6:12
  • @zibadawatimmy I'd say that's more of a complete certainty than merely a "some think." In most of the states that Trump won on Super Tuesday, he only had around a third of the vote. He didn't have a majority in any Super Tuesday state, though he did manage 49% in Massachusetts. If the GOP 2016 race had been down to an essentially 2-candidate race before Super Tuesday, Trump would almost certainly have lost the primary. – reirab Mar 5 at 22:01
  • @reirab Trump also received massive amounts of free press from media coverage of his primary campaign; far more than anyone else received. – zibadawa timmy Mar 6 at 1:24
  • @zibadawatimmy That's very true. He was a master of getting the media to give him attention. – reirab Mar 6 at 3:05
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The benefit of dropping out is that senators don't want to be seen losing their home states. It is seen as very humiliating. However, that is not the full story. Both Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren were at risk of losing their home states to Bernie Sanders, but only the former dropped out. And Buttigieg isn't a senator at all so the humiliation factor doesn't apply to him.

Roughly, the candidates in the Democratic primary can be grouped into the "moderates" and the "progressives." Bloomberg, Biden, Buttigieg and Klobuchar are the moderates and the progressives are Sanders and Warren. Progressive voters are expected to cast their votes on progressive candidates and moderate voters on moderate candidates.

So when two moderate candidates drop out, their votes are likely to flock to either of the remaining two. This is especially true since they both endorsed Biden. Thus the moderate vote consolidates around Biden. That makes it harder for Sanders to reach the Democratic convention in Milwaukee with more than half of all delegates, leading to a contested convention. That activates the superdelegates' votes who are expected to vote for Biden (or Bloomberg). Thus depriving Sanders of the nomination.

Consolidation to Biden isn't the only reason the two moderates dropped out now. There are technical reasons too. Each state appropriates two types of delegates; state delegates and county delegates. For a candidate to get state delegates, that candidate has to receive more than 15% of the popular vote in that state. In many of the Super Tuesday states holding primaries today, Biden was polling at around the 15% mark, meaning that he would have gotten no state delegates in many states. Now with the sudden dropout of Buttigieg and Klobuchar he is likely to get more than 15% and thus get state delegates.

This is especially important in California, the state with the most delegates with the primary on Super Tuesday. Prior to the moderate candidates dropping out, only Sanders and Warren polled above 15% meaning that they both would have received a massive number of delegates and Biden very few. But now Biden will almost certainly get above 15% and pick up quite a few state delegates.

Why didn't Warren drop out?

Conversely, if Warren had dropped out that would have benefited Sanders immensely because they are competing for the same group of progressive voters. Super Tuesday would have been a blowout for him and the race would practically have been over. A candidate that takes a big lead on Super Tuesday is a heavy favorite to the nomination.

Given that both Warren and Sanders see themselves as progressives it would have made sense for her to drop out. The reason why she hasn't done so is unclear and there may be backroom deals involved.

Only a few weeks ago her campaign was in dire straits, but she unexpectedly received the backing of a SuperPAC whose donors are unknown. The $14 million in ads the SuperPAC purchased for her rejuvenated her campaign.

It is also possible that she believes she can win the nomination through a contested convention. However, that seems very unlikely given that she is expected to pick up only a small fraction of all available delegates.

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    "Biden was polling at around 10-12%" [citation needed]. "if Warren had dropped out that would have benefited Sanders immensely" [citation needed]. "it would have made sense for her to drop out" Why? Can you find the quote where Warren says "I would rather Bernie win the nomination than anyone else, including myself, a candidate for the nomination"? Entire last paragraph: Can you provide context? Is it unusual for a candidate to receive donations of that amount? Before an important election day? With the goal of rejuvenating their campaign? – Sam Mar 3 at 20:41
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    Warren and Bernie are competing for the same group of progressive voters. Crosstabs show that for both candidates' voters they are each others second choice. Had she dropped out it would have reduced the competition and allowed Bernie to consolidate. The $14 million ad buys for her in California is very large and she is now the candidate with the largest SuperPAC backing in the race. To boot, the funders of the SuperPAC has decided to remain anonymous so we can only speculate about what their intentions are. – Björn Lindqvist Mar 3 at 21:55
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    In 2016, the Dem bigwigs (superdelegates) made it quite clear they don’t want Sanders, even if the rank and file wanted him. – WGroleau Mar 4 at 1:28
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    If this answer was cleaned for the borderline conspiratorical speculations it would be a rather decent answer. – Stian Yttervik Mar 4 at 15:58
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    shrug. As someone in an enclave of big-city college-educated white liberals (aka Warren voters) with something near disgust for Bernie's behavior helping to throw 2016 to Trump (not to mention the intellectual dishonesty implicit in making promises one can't pay for or show a congressional path to enacting as legislation), I'm not so sure that the idea that Warren's votes will go to Bernie with any reliability is a sure one. – Charles Duffy Mar 4 at 20:55
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Some of this is stated in other answers but this is a bit different take

  1. They're more concerned with seeing Sanders lose, than winning themselves. Setting aside the question of whether they're right or not, they may place the good of the nation over the personal good, and believe a Sanders victory wouldn't be for the good of the nation either because he's more likely to lose to Trump or that his policies would be as damaging as Trump's.

  2. By doing Biden a "favor" they can increase the chances of an administration role

  3. They can--I believe--keep their funds raised for future political projects. This could be a huge help in their next election.

  4. In theory they could stop spending money and send everyone home and simply stay on the ballots but then they'll be remembered as a loser.

  5. They're absolutely exhausted, after doing this campaigning all over the country, while holding down their day job. If it's hopeless, just go home.

  6. (stealing this from another answer) a state-level politician (governor or senator) losing their state could harm their future electability. A mayor or representative wouldn't be so worried on this point.

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  • I wonder how many people will vote for Trump rather than Biden, but Sanders rather than Trump. Either to punish the Democratic party for making Sanders lose, or because Biden is about as useless as Trump but Trump is a known quantity. – user253751 Mar 5 at 15:58
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A secondary reason that Pete dropped out when he did (per staffers posting on Twitter) is that he wanted to give all his paid staffers a month's pay and health insurance to tide them over to their next job.

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    Could you provide a link to one or two of those tweets? – F1Krazy Mar 5 at 15:13
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    Looking through my twitter bookmarks... – Lynn Mar 5 at 20:15
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The benefit to a candidate of pulling out of the race before Super Tuesday is that their votes in the states that vote in the primaries on Super Tuesday can go to the candidate that is the next most similar to themselves.

If a candidate knows that they have no reasonable chance of winning the nomination, then it makes perfect sense for them to drop out of the race before Super Tuesday in order to keep from splitting the votes of like-minded voters between multiple candidates.

The problem here is that delegates are not allocated in direct proportion to the popular vote among all of the candidates within a given state. Instead, for the Democratic primaries, candidates with less than 15% of the vote get no delegates at all, effectively making the votes of the people who voted for them not count at all when they could have otherwise counted toward the candidate next most like themselves if the candidate dropped out before the primary.

The Republican primaries in 2016 had many states that were even worse than that: the candidate with a mere plurality of the popular vote received nearly all or even all of the state's delegates. Since there were still 4 more-or-less establishment candidates left in the race by Super Tuesday, those 4 managed to split all of the moderate Republican votes and Trump was able to win many states with only around a third of the votes cast. Had the 2 candidates who obviously had no chance to win dropped out before Super Tuesday, a Trump win would have been much less likely. Had all but one of them dropped out before Super Tuesday, Trump would almost certainly not have won the nomination.

For example, in my state, the 4 more-or-less moderate candidates totaled 59% of the votes and Trump got 39%. Yet Trump won 57% of the delegates because of how much the delegate allocation rules favored the candidate that won a plurality of the votes if they were the candidate liked least by a majority of voters.

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I also cannot see any benefits for candidates - it is indeed illogical.

But from a strategic view, it would obviously be beneficial for some other candidates, which the Democratic Party wants to help.

What other candidates? Bernie Sanders? I don't think so, just because his electorate is a bit different from what Buttigieg and Klobuchar have. But for Biden - that would be the reinforcement he needs. The NYTimes also thinks in a similar way.

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  • The benefit to the candidates, especially the younger ones is it allows them to position themselves for future jobs either in the administration if they endorse and their endorsed candidate wins and/or for future runs at other offices by lessening the number of times voters hear "X lost". – Robert Mar 6 at 15:35
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    "I also cannot see any benefits for candidates - it is indeed illogical." First off there are a half-dozen good answers here already. Either 1) you didn't read them yourself, 2) you disagree and yet offer no refutation whatsoever, or 3) are simply a troll or even paid troll. (I notice you discuss only political matters having to do with the US or Russia. Interestingly your posts have a very close correlation to Russia state-controlled media talking points. – Swiss Frank Mar 7 at 3:46
  • As for specifics that the "DNC wants to help other candidates" where is your proof? The Russian-hacked and Russa-released DNC emails show literally zero emails with a concerted effort to harm Sanders' chance. Indeed, the DNC fought like tigers to get Sanders on the New Hampshire ballot in 2016, without which he would have lost by a 10% greater margin than he actually did--hardly an act, to my mind--of an organization that wasn't trying to help all candidates. You really should explain how the New Hampshire vote aid squares with your insinuation--or retract it. – Swiss Frank Mar 7 at 3:52
  • "that would be the reinforcement he needs"-- he's already a million votes ahead of Sanders, out of eight million cast so far. All with spending a fraction of Bernie, not even having ads or organization or even visiting many of the states he's winning. Please explain your case that he NEEDS reinforcement--or retract it if you have second thoughts. – Swiss Frank Mar 7 at 3:54

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