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Politics

Tom Steyer drops out of the 2020 presidential race

Bernie Sanders and Tom Steyer
Tom Steyer, right, laughs with Bernie Sanders at a Martin Luther King Day event in Columbia, S.C. On Saturday night in the same city, Steyer announced he was leaving the presidential race.
(Getty Images)

California activist Tom Steyer is ending his presidential bid after a disappointing finish in Saturday’s primary in South Carolina, where he invested heavily in both money and time.

The billionaire former hedge fund manager failed to convince voters he was Democrats’ best shot to challenge President Trump’s business record. He was on track to place a distant third in South Carolina.

“I said if I didn’t see a path to winning that I’d suspend my campaign,” he said Saturday night in Columbia, South Carolina’s capital. “And honestly, I can’t see a path where I can win the presidency.”

Steyer, a relatively late entrant into the race, thanked his gathered supporters. “This has been a great experience; I have zero regrets. Meeting you and the rest of the American people is the highlight of my life.”

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His departure comes as Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders leads in the national delegate count and after former Vice President Joe Biden overwhelmingly won the South Carolina contest.

Among the most memorable moments of Steyer’s long-shot campaign was one following a Democratic debate in mid-January, when he came between the two most prominent progressive candidates, Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, as they were having a tense discussion on stage, watched if not heard by millions.

Steyer, who looked on befuddled, finally stammered, “I don’t want to get in the middle of — I just want to say hi, Bernie.”

Reporters afterward swarmed Steyer to ask what had transpired, but he revealed nothing. “It was one of those awkward moments where I felt like, ‘I need to move on as fast as possible,’” he said on CNN. When the cable network later broadcast audio of the Sanders-Warren confrontation, Steyer capitalized on his awkward moment.

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“Just want to say hi, America,” he tweeted.

Steyer boasted of being a self-made businessman who could take Trump on as an outsider. Steyer never held public office and was little known when he announced his candidacy in July after saying months earlier that he would not run. He had gained some recognition among Democratic voters, however, by starring for years in his own television ads as an advocate for impeaching Trump or taking action against climate change.

Steyer made his fortune by starting one of the largest U.S. hedge funds, Farallon Capital Management, whose investments included fossil fuel projects and a company that ran migrant detention centers. Steyer told The Times that he left the fund in 2012 partly because of its investments in fossil fuels.

He became a prominent fundraiser for the Democratic Party and founded NextGen America, an advocacy group aimed at registering young voters, and Need to Impeach, an anti-Trump organization.

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His progressive platform reflected the activism he embraced after leaving the corporate world, but Steyer struggled to distinguish himself from the other Democrats who expressed similar views.

To address climate change, Steyer set a target of 100% clean energy and net-zero emissions by 2045, called for “justice-centered” policies addressing the vulnerability of communities of color to pollution by fossil fuel companies, and proposed phasing out fossil fuel production.

He supported liberal immigration policies. Steyer called for independent oversight of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency and proposed restricting its forcible deportations and ending work-site raids.

He also called for an assault weapons ban, universal gun licensing and a voluntary buyback program for all firearms, in line with most of the Democratic field. Like other candidates, he favored reparations for the descendants of slaves, promising to create a commission to study proposals, and said that as president he would apologize on behalf of the U.S. for the history of slavery.

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He kicked off his campaign last summer by committing to spend at least $100 million against rivals who were courting small-dollar donors. The actual numbers were far higher: He spent well over a quarter of billion dollars, according to federal campaign disclosures.

With both Steyer and then former New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg in the race, Sanders and Warren in particular targeted them by complaining about billionaires trying to buy the nomination.

The spending initially seemed to be paying off. By January, Steyer was rising in the polls in South Carolina among black voters, who make up about 60% of the state’s Democratic electorate. But as results rolled in Saturday night, he was expected to finish well behind Biden and Sanders there. He finished near the bottom of the pack in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada.


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