Precious Director Lee Daniels on Why He's Endorsing Pete Buttigieg for President in 2020

Oscar-nominated writer-director Lee Daniels has made his choice for president in the 2020 election: On Tuesday he announced that he’s supporting Pete Buttigieg.

The former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, 38, is one of the leading candidates for the Democratic Party’s nomination after winning the Iowa caucus and narrowly losing the New Hampshire primary earlier this month.

He faces a stiffer challenge ahead, however, against front-runner Sen. Bernie Sanders (who won New Hampshire and the Nevada caucus) and former Vice President Joe Biden, who aims to triumph in South Carolina’s primary.

Buttigieg finished third in last week’s Nevada caucus behind Sanders and Biden and is making a push for another strong finish in this Saturday’s vote in South Carolina. With his Iowa win, he made history as the first openly gay candidate to win a presidential nominating contest.

Daniels — who made a splash in Hollywood with his 2001 Halle Berry-starring film Monster’s Ball, followed by 2009’s Precious and 2013’s The Butler and the hit TV series Empire — said in a statement shared with PEOPLE that he believes Buttigieg is the candidate who can lift the U.S. out from the divisive political landscape created by President Donald Trump.

“The next leader of our country has a daunting task ahead of them, but I believe that Pete is prepared to bring our country together to confront the biggest challenges we face, from dismantling systemic racism to passing gun violence prevention legislation and combating climate change,” said Daniels, 60. “This is the most critical election of our lifetimes, and I am supporting Pete because he is our best hope to unify the country to resoundingly defeat Trump and Trumpism at the ballot box in November.”

Buttigieg has scored celebrity endorsements from the likes of Michael J. Fox, Sharon Stone, George Takei, Kevin Costner, Mandy Moore and Seth MacFarlane, among others.

“Lee Daniels has brought us powerful stories which examine the conscience of the country and reflect the struggles that too many American families face,” Buttigieg said in his own statement on Tuesday. “As a major fan of his career and his work, I’m honored to have Lee’s support in this election. His ability to communicate the urgency of this moment and the need to bring about a new era is invaluable in this election.”

The Democratic candidate and his 30-year-old husband, Chasten, recently opened up to PEOPLE about the campaign and their life together, including when they may be ready to start a family.

“I obviously threw a wrench in our short-term plans,” Buttigieg said last month. “No matter what happens, I think the next chapter in our personal lives is going to be about kids.”

According to RealClear Politics, “Mayor Pete” — as he’s become colloquially known to those unsure of pronouncing his last name — is currently fifth in national polling among the Democratic candidates, behind Sanders, Biden, former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

He vaunted from a national unknown last year to rack up strong primary showings so far.

The candidates will be on stage again for a debate Tuesday night in Charleston, South Carolina, ahead of the primary there.

As voting continues, more and more celebrities are speaking out for their preferred candidates. Biden has gotten the support of Vivica A. Fox, Warren was picked by Megan Rapinoe and Bloomberg has the vote of Michael Douglas.

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