Romney quits U.S. presidential race, takes shot at Europe
Exit seals McCain as Republican frontrunner, as Romney warns against Putin, Chavez, Ahmadinejad.
John McCain effectively sealed the Republican presidential nomination on Thursday as chief rival Mitt Romney suspended his faltering presidential campaign. "I must now stand aside, for our party and our country," Romney told conservatives.
"If I fight on in my campaign, all the way to the convention, I would forestall the launch of a national campaign and make it more likely that Senator Clinton or Obama would win. And in this time of war, I simply cannot let my campaign, be a part of aiding a surrender to terror," Romney told the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington.
Romney's decision leaves McCain as the top man standing in the Republican race, with Mike Huckabee and Ron Paul far behind in the delegate hunt. It was a remarkable turnaround for McCain, who some seven months ago was barely viable, out of cash and losing staff. The four-term Arizona senator, denied his party's nomination in 2000, was poised to succeed George W. Bush as the Republican standard-bearer.
Romney launched his campaign almost a year ago in his native Michigan. The former Massachusetts governor and venture capitalist invested more than $40 million of his own money into the race, counted on early wins in Iowa and New Hampshire that never materialized and won just seven states out of 21 on the Super Tuesday vote.
Ending candidacy, Romney lashes out at Europe
In a speech Thursday ending his presidential candidacy, Romney said Europe faces demographic disaster because of moral and religious failings, and warned that United States should not become the France of the 21st century.
Romney also placed Russian President Vladimir Putin, alongside the United States' greatest adversaries, as a threat to America.
Romney addressed what he saw as Europe's problems as he called on the United States to approve a constitutional amendment that would ban gay marriages.
He called for the United States to become energy secure, "because America must never be held hostage by the likes of Putin, (Venezuelan President Hugo) Chavez and (Iranian President Mahmoud) Ahmadinejad," Romney said. "If the United States did not change course we could become the France of the 21st century."
"Still a great nation, but not the leader of the world, not the superpower," he said. "And to me that's unthinkable."
Romney again hammered the economic theme, a subject that helped bring him early campaign wins from voters concerned that the country is in a recession.
Overall, McCain was leading the race with 707 delegates, to 294 for Romney and 195 for Huckabee. It takes 1,191 to win the nomination at this summer's Republican convention in St. Paul, Minnesota.
"I disagree with Senator McCain on a number of issues, as you know. But I agree with him on doing whatever it takes to be successful in Iraq, on finding and executing Osama bin Laden, and on eliminating al-Qaida and terror," Romney said.
The Huckabee campaign said the former Arkansas governor would push on.
"We're still in the race and we're still competing for delegates, and today demonstrates how long and windy to the White House this is," said Chip Saltsman, Huckabee's campaign manager.
Romney's departure from the race came almost a year after his formal entrance, when the Michigan native declared his candidacy on February 12, 2007, at the Henry Ford Museum of Innovation in Dearborn, Michigan.
Over the ensuing 12 months, Romney sought the support of conservatives with a family values campaign, emphasizing his opposition to abortion and gay marriage, as well as his support for tax cuts and health insurance that would benefit middle-class families.
But he was dogged by charges of flip-flopping, a criticism that undermined the candidacy of another Massachusetts hopeful - Democratic John Kerry in 2004. In seeking to unseat liberal Sen. Edward M. Kennedy in 1994 in Massachusetts, Romney said he would be a better advocate for gay rights than his rival and he favored abortion rights.
Throughout his campaign, Romney was questioned by voters and the media about his Mormon faith. Hoping assuage voters skeptical of electing a Mormon president, Romney gave a speech on December 6 in College Station, Texas, that explicitly recalled remarks former President John F. Kennedy made in 1960 in an effort to quell anti-Catholic bias. He vowed to serve the interests of the nation, not the church, if elected president.