DALLAS (Reuters) – Pete Buttigieg endorsed Joe Biden’s presidential candidacy on Monday in a meeting between the two former rivals on the eve of crucial Super Tuesday voting as moderate Democrats rallied around the former vice president to strengthen his challenge to front-runner Bernie Sanders.
“I’m delighted to endorse and support Joe Biden,” Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, who ended his candidacy on Sunday, said at their appearance outside a Dallas restaurant. “He is somebody of such extraordinary grace and kindness and empathy.”
Biden, 77, in turn, told reporters that Buttigieg, 38, “reminds me of my son Beau,” who died in 2015, “To me, it is the highest complement you can give any man or woman.”
Later on Monday, Biden was also set to receive the endorsement of Senator Amy Klobuchar at a Dallas rally when she announces the suspension of her presidential campaign, a Klobuchar aide said.
Former U.S. Representative Beto O’Rourke, another former candidate for the Democratic nomination, was also expected to endorse Biden, the New York Times reported.
Biden is fresh off a resounding victory in Saturday’s South Carolina primary and is aiming for a strong showing on Super Tuesday against Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, who many centrist Democrats fear cannot win against Republican President Donald Trump in November.
But Biden still faces a challenge from billionaire former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg among voters hoping the party will nominate a moderate to face Trump.
Bloomberg, a late entrant to the race, will make his ballot-box debut when 14 states vote on Super Tuesday. He is betting the $500 million of his own money he has poured into his campaign will allow him to make up for not competing in the first nominating contests in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina.
He said on Monday the most likely scenario was that no Democratic candidate would win a majority of delegates and that picking the nominee could come down to “horse trading” at the Democratic convention in Milwaukee in July.
Asked at a Fox News town hall if a contested convention lay in his path to the nomination, Bloomberg said: “That is the way that it would work I would guess.”
The Super Tuesday contests offer the biggest one-day haul of the 1,991 delegates needed to win the party’s nomination at its national convention in July, with about 1,357 delegates, or nearly one-third of the total number, up for grabs.
Fourteen states – California, Texas, Virginia, Massachusetts, Tennessee, Alabama, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Minnesota, Vermont, Colorado, Utah, North Carolina and Maine – as well as American Samoa and Democrats living abroad cast ballots on Tuesday. (The primary for expatriate Americans is scheduled to run through March 10.)
Five candidates – Biden, Bloomberg, Sanders, Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and U.S. Representative Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii – remain in the running for the Democratic nomination, down from more than 20 earlier in the campaign.
Bloomberg and Biden have emerged as the main contenders for the votes of moderate Democrats, while Sanders, a senator from Vermont, is the progressive front-runner nationally, eclipsing Warren.
Biden’s high-stakes triumph in South Carolina, where his campaign had said his popularity with black voters would propel him to victory after early disappointing finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire, helped winnow the field.
Billionaire environmental activist Tom Steyer also gave up his campaign on Saturday night after a third-place finish in the Southern state in which he had invested most heavily.
Sanders’ momentum might not be easily slowed. On Monday, his campaign downplayed the efforts by moderates to present a united front.
“The establishment is nervous, not because we can’t beat Trump, but because we will,” said Sanders’ campaign manager, Faiz Shakir. “And when we do, the Democratic Party will again be a party of the working class.”
It was not immediately clear who would immediately benefit from the departures of Buttigieg and Klobuchar. A Morning Consult poll taken Feb. 23 to 27, for example, before Buttigieg exited the race, showed that 21% of his supporters named Sanders as their second choice, 19% picked Biden, another 19% chose Warren and 17% favored Bloomberg.
Biden still lags his rivals in spending and organization in Super Tuesday states and beyond, but his campaign said on Sunday it had raised more than $10 million over the preceding two days.
Endorsements of the former vice president from elected officials and community leaders poured in on Monday.
Backing from Ohio Democrats including Representative Marcia Fudge and former Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory added to endorsements from Senator Tim Kaine and state House of Delegates Majority Leader Charniele Herring of Virginia. In Colorado, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock has backed Biden. In California, Representative Gil Cisneros is supporting the former vice president.
Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt in Houston, Sharon Bernstein in Sacramento, California, and Jarrett Renshaw in Philadelphia; Additional reporting by Amanda Becker, Michael Martina, Tim Reid and Steve Holland; Writing by Amanda Becker and Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Scott Malone, Jonathan Oatis and Peter Cooney