February 7, 2008
Mitt Romney today withdrew from the Republican presidential race today, effectively ceding the contest to frontrunner John McCain.
The former Massachusetts governor pulled out after losing considerable ground to McCain in the coast-to-coast Super Tuesday primary contests. He also failed to edge out ordained Baptist preacher Mike Huckabee in the socially conservative southern states.
Romney made the announcement in front of an influential conservative political group in Washington, saying that he was withdrawing because America was at war in Iraq and he would rather support McCain as nominee rather than make it easier for the Democratic nominee to win.
“In this time of war I simply cannot let my campaign be a part of aiding a surrender to terror,” he told the Conservative Political Action Committee.
“Because I love America, in this time of war I feel I have to now stand aside for our party and for our country”
By leaving the race, Romney positions himself as a prime contender in 2012, should McCain lose the November general election or serve only one term, or beyond. He also takes the role of loyal party unifier, building good will among party leaders and the rank and file.
“He realises mathematically that it was almost impossible for him to win,” said David E Johnson, a Republican strategist. “At this point, he’s looking to the future.”
The withdrawal calls Huckabee’s role in the Republican race into question. The former Arkansas governor won five southern states on Tuesday and is third place in the delegate count behind McCain and Romney. Having failed to broaden his appeal beyond evangelical Christian voters, he faces a nearly impossible struggle if he continues to run.
Speculation has build in recent days that Huckabee has stayed in the race at McCain’s behest in order to draw votes from Romney, with McCain pledging in return to help him retire campaign debt or run for another office.
A wealthy businessman, Romney spent millions from his own pocket to finance the race. He invested heavily in Iowa, the first contest, but took second place to Huckabee.
Romney also suffered disappointment in New Hampshire. Having governed neighbouring Massachusetts for four years and enjoying media exposure in the state, he lost when New Hampshire’s independents turned out to support McCain. McCain had won the state in 2000 and remained popular there.
Romney went on to win contests in Wyoming and Michigan, but lost crucial Florida and South Carolina to McCain, further cementing McCain’s position as Republican frontrunner ahead of Super Tuesday.
On Tuesday, McCain took an overwhelming lead in the delegate count, with 707 compared to 294 for Romney and 195 for Huckabee, according to an Associated Press tally.