- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 7, 2008

Mitt Romney today suspended his stalled presidential bid, effectively handing the Republican nomination to Sen. John McCain, who has built a nearly insurmountable lead in the race for delegates.

The former Massachusetts governor decided to “stand aside for our party and our country.”

With his eyes red but dry, he said he didn’t want to prevent Mr. McCain from consolidating the Republican Party and beginning the fight against Democrats.

“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,” he said. “And in this time of war, I simply cannot let my campaign be a part of aiding a surrender to terror.”

To gasps from many in the crowd of 2,500 packed into a ballroom in the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington, gathered for the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, Mr. Romney said, “This is not an easy decision for me. I hate to lose. …

“If this were only about me, I’d go on. But it’s never been about me,” Mr. Romney said. “I entered this race because I love America, and because I love America, in this time of war, I feel I now have to stand aside ”

His move leaves Mr. McCain an easy path to the nomination.

Mr. McCain has more than 700 delegates — nearly 60 percent of the 1,191 delegates he needs for the nomination. Mr. Romney today acknowledged his weak position, saying of Mr. McCain’s lead: “Size does matter, he’s doing quite a bit better with delegates.”

Mr. Romney said he was close to Mr. McCain in the number of states he’d won — 11 to the senator’s 13 — and in number of votes — 4 million to the senator’s 4.7 million — but it wasn’t enough.

“Because size does matter, he’s doing quite a bit better with the number of delegates he’s got,” Mr. Romney said at the beginning of his speech.

He faced a nearly impossible mathematical quest — he would need to win three out of four delegates still available throughout the rest of the campaign.

And his outreach to conservative voters nationwide had not paid dividends, with many of them doubting his authenticity because of left-leaning positions he used to espouse. He also was unable in many places to best former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who continues to charm conservative voters, particularly in Southern states.

His decision narrows the field to Mr. McCain, Mr. Huckabee and Rep. Ron Paul.

As Mr. Romney made his statement, some in the crowd of conservatives yelled, “No, No” — a woman screamed “We love you, Mitt.”

Mr. Romney smiled and responded, “You guys are great.”

The move was a blow to many in the CPAC audience, since so many of them had counted on Mr. Romney to be a conservative alternative to Mr. McCain. Now those conservatives will have to decide whether to back Mr. Huckabee, rally around Mr. McCain or refuse to back anyone.

Mr. McCain speaks here later today, as does Mr. Paul. Mr. Huckabee is scheduled to speak on Saturday.

Mr. Romney spent nearly $100 million on his campaign, including morethan $40 million of the fortune he earned as a venture capitalist. But time and again he was outperformed by opponents spending a fraction of his outflow: Mr. Romney lost the nation’s first contest, Iowa, to Mr. Huckabee, whom he outspent 20-1.

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