Justin Sunseri — once a “longtime Republican” — says the GOP has left him behind.
As a result, the 38-year-old software developer from Houston found himself wrestling with the sprawling Democratic field. Eventually Sunseri found a savior of sorts in Pete Buttigieg, a centrist technocrat who spent much of his time on the trail drawing explicit contrasts to his progressive rivals.
“His policies were more moderate, and I thought, frankly, he was the smoothest debater,” Sunseri said of Buttigieg. “He always looked polished, and I liked that, and I saw somebody I could get behind.”
There’s just one problem: On Sunday, days after Sunseri cast a ballot for Buttigieg, the 38-year-old former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, announced he is no longer running for president.
After talks with his top advisers, just 48 hours before Super Tuesday, Buttigieg shuttered his White House bid. According to The New York Times, the former mayor saw a narrow, if not impossible, path forward Tuesday, as results were widely expected to show him far behind rivals Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders.
“The truth is that the path has narrowed to a close, for our candidacy if not for our cause,” Buttigieg told supporters Sunday. “Tonight I am making the difficult decision to suspend my campaign for the presidency.”
But for Sunseri, it came too late. The same is true of early voters who cast ballots for Amy Klobuchar and Tom Steyer, both of whom also dropped out in the past 72 hours and left a sense of despair for many of their supporters who found out that their early votes for president have been, essentially, wasted.
“We need ranked-choice voting so I don’t throw my vote in the trash again,” said Sunseri, referencing an electoral model that allows voters to rank candidates by preference, listing their first-, second- and third-place choices.
It’s impossible to know how many people already voted for Buttigieg, Klobuchar or Steyer in Texas; results from early voting won’t be available until after the polls close on Super Tuesday. According to the Texas Secretary of State, about 1 million people have already cast ballots in the Democratic primary. And each candidate was working to win over voters in Texas before exiting the race.
Buttigieg, for example, was slated to hold a rally Sunday night in Dallas and a fundraiser Monday morning in Austin before he canceled both to return to South Bend last night and deliver the news of his exit. And before a disappointing third-place finish in South Carolina, Steyer held a town hall in Houston. Klobuchar was the only Democratic presidential candidate not campaigning in Texas ahead of Super Tuesday. She last visited the state in September.
(According to media reports, both Buttigieg and Klobuchar are expected Monday night to throw their support behind Joe Biden, who, after an impressive finish in South Carolina, has positioned himself as the strongest moderate alternative to stop Sanders. Biden was already scheduled to be in Dallas on Monday night for a community event after visiting Houston earlier in the day.)
Texans who voted for one of the three candidates now out of the race said they did so, in part, because of the candidates’ moderate credentials and because they saw them as the contestants most capable of ending President Donald Trump’s administration.
Krissia Palomo, a 20-year-old student, said it plainly: She was supporting Klobuchar because she felt the Minnesota senator could unite Democrats across the ideological spectrum — unlike Sanders or even Biden. She’s now supporting Elizabeth Warren, she said.
“In this election, we’re going to need to bring in moderates,” she said. “On a national stage, it’s really, really hard to energize everybody, so we need to get those people who already do go vote on a regular basis — and get the moderates and the never-Trump Republicans to be on our side.”
Zachary Petty, a 34-year-old accountant, said he liked Buttigieg because he felt the former mayor has been able to “usher in some new ideas.”
“The reason that I decided to vote for him was a combination of believing he had the best chance of winning and him being the most like me in his thinking,” he said.
Petty said he didn’t feel like his vote was wasted.
“I voted for the candidate I liked the most,” he said. “I made the best decision for me based on the information I had at the time I cast my ballot.”
Ashley Wilson, a 45-year-old digital learning coordinator, expressed similar feelings about Buttigieg.
“He’s a rational human being,” Wilson said. “He was very straightforward, and he had common sense.”
But for all the voters bowled over by the Democrats now out of the race, the warning signs were there: In one of the latest Texas polls, released by the University of Houston Hobby School of Public Affairs, Buttigieg received 11.9% support among Democratic presidential primary voters. Klobuchar earned 7.2%, and Steyer was at 1.1%. Biden, the leader, came in at 22.5%.
And despite a push from local election officials encouraging Texans to vote early, Sunseri says he won’t make the same mistake twice.
“Maybe if I’m planning to vote for the front-runner I can do so ahead of time,” Sunseri said.
“I’ll wait until election day,” he said.
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