John Delaney was a Democratic presidential candidate from July 2017 to January 2020 and a congressman from Maryland from 2013 to 2019.

Do you stay or do you go?

I suspect several presidential candidates are wrestling with that gut-wrenching question right now. I do not envy them.

I certainly know what it feels like. You have been campaigning tirelessly for more than a year. (In my case, it was 2½.) You know in your heart that you have the right message, the best ideas and the skills to lead the country. But the results of the early primaries and caucuses (or, in my case, the early polls) are getting hard to ignore. They suggest that you have no path to the nomination.

It is difficult to let it all go. You have invested enormous amounts of time. You are blessed with extraordinary supporters and amazing volunteers. You think about the thousands of patriotic Americans you met. People who love their country, their neighbors and their families and who care deeply about the character of this nation. You ask yourself: Are you letting them down?

You tell yourself that leaving the race — “quitting” — is not what you are made of. This kind of endeavor does not attract quitters.

You think the playing field will suddenly shift and everyone will start coming your way. But life, like politics, rarely works like that.

Everyone who enters the race for president has something to offer. But only one person can win the nomination — the person who best answers the central question that voters are asking at that moment. And sometimes, even your best stuff is not good enough.

Although for a while I did more events across our nation than any other candidate (I had been running longer than most, after all), I still could not break in to the top tier. And though I hated to admit it, voters were not responding sufficiently. Yes, many were, but not enough. For most of the campaign, I was not deterred because we were changing the debate, and my solutions — on health care, education, trade and climate — were the right answers for this country.

As we got closer to the Iowa caucuses, however, my lens changed. It was hard to stay undeterred. It was clear to me that my support was not enough to meet the 15 percent viability threshold in a material number of precincts, and that because the field was still so crowded, it might have caused other moderate candidates to not make that viability threshold.

I strongly believe that the Democratic Party should advance a candidate who is committed to governing with fact-based, bipartisan solutions. This approach — which flipped the House in 2018 — will defeat President Trump, unify our nation and get things done. I did not want the good work of my campaign to make it harder for those like-minded candidates on the bubble of viability to advance. If I had stayed in the race longer, which I could have, my efforts might have undermined the very reason I ran.

It was a difficult decision, but I left the race three days before the Iowa caucuses and have no regrets.

Now, other candidates have a similar choice.

Let me offer them a way to think about how to bring the curtain down. Reflect on what originally called you to public service. Just before I first ran for Congress, I wrestled with the impact it would have on my life and my family. I was 20 years into a successful business career, the chief executive of a public company I founded, and had control over my life. My wife, April, told me I was focusing on the wrong things. Quoting Rick Warren, the author of “The Purpose Driven Life,” April said, “It’s not about you” — it’s about the difference you can make in the lives of other people.

As other candidates consider this decision, I urge them to remember why they were called to public service in the first place: to make a difference. And they have. They have contributed to the debate and made a disproportionate difference. Leaving is not a defeat. It is a triumph.

But if they stay in, they must ask themselves: Will they continue to make a positive difference, or will they steer the race toward a candidate who either can’t win or can’t govern and, in so doing, undermine everything they care about?

Only the remaining candidates themselves know what course is best. Many who have exited in recent months have done so with their high character intact, including Sens. Michael F. Bennet of Colorado, Cory Booker of New Jersey and Kamala D. Harris of California, and Montana Gov. Steve Bullock and former Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick.

And if we, the Democratic Party, want to give ourselves the best chance of beating Trump, I urge some candidates to exit so they don’t continue to fracture the vote, work against each other and prevent a pragmatic candidate from being our nominee. It’s not about you.

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Republican Tommy Blackwood of North Charleston, S.C. wants President Trump to stay in office, so he's trying to disrupt the Democratic primary race. (The Washington Post)
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