- The Washington Times - Friday, February 8, 2008

Mitt Romney yesterday ended his sputtering bid for the Republican presidential nomination, having failed to broaden his appeal beyond true-blue conservatives and repeatedly defeated by Sen. John McCain, who staked out the middle.

Two days after a devastating Super Tuesday, in which Mr. Romney won only a few small states and lost the biggest prizes, New York and California, the former Massachusetts governor said he would drop out of the race to allow Mr. McCain of Arizona to reunite the Republican Party and begin the battle against the Democratic hopefuls, Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama.

“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,” Mr. Romney told the Conservative Political Action Conference at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington.

Many in the crowd of more than 2,000 gasped. Some shouted, “No, no.” A woman yelled, “We love you, Mitt.”

But Mr. Romney, red-eyed but resolute, said he had made up his mind.

Mr. McCain, in a later speech to CPAC, said he had spoken by phone with Mr. Romney and that “we agreed on the importance to unite our party.” Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee said he had no intention of dropping out of the race, while wishing Mr. Romney and his family “all the best.”

Mr. Romney’s announcement yesterday was a stunning end to a presidential run that began with the telegenic former governor rising from obscurity to top the polls in the nation’s first nomination contests, only to crash as Mr. Huckabee captured Iowa and Mr. McCain won New Hampshire.

Mr. Romney laid out a time-tested strategy: Build top-tier campaign teams on the ground in Iowa and New Hampshire — an effort he began more than a year ago — and ride a wave of momentum from those early wins into the South, through Florida and into Super Tuesday. After his losses, he scrambled to find a new path and never recovered.

A multimillionaire from his days as a venture capitalist, Mr. Romney put nearly $40 million of his own money into his campaign. He changed his message several times, moving from his declaration that he most embodied former President Ronald Reagan, then seeking to capitalize on the strategy that proved successful for Mr. Obama: hope and change.

He ultimately settled on selling his credentials to fix the flagging economy, a theme that brought him his first win in his boyhood state of Michigan. But the new message did not sell so well in South Carolina or Florida, both of which he lost to Mr. McCain. He also returned to his strategy of portraying the senator from Arizona as too liberal and the consummate Washington insider.

Mr. Romney was able to lock down only the most conservative Republican voters. In 13 out the 14 exit polls conducted on Super Tuesday, he handily topped Mr. McCain among those who identified themselves as “very conservative.” But he lost by wide margins to the senator among those who called themselves “moderate,” and even trailed those defining themselves as “somewhat conservative” in such states as California, New York and Illinois.

Mr. Romney ran an aggressive campaign, angering Mr. McCain and Mr. Huckabee with attack ads and eventually alienating voters. In December 2006, just before he opened his campaign, he was viewed negatively by 24 percent of those polled. Last month, that number had nearly doubled, to 46 percent.

Observers said that Mr. Romney, while appearing presidential throughout his yearlong run, failed to connect with voters during his town hall meetings. Some called him robotic and unenergetic. Conservatives and others criticized him for changing his messages and stances on issues.

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