Bradley, McCain bow out of party races
SEDONA, Arizona (CNN) -- Arizona Sen. John McCain and former New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley ended their presidential bids Thursday, with McCain saying he would take his battle for civic and political reform "back to the United States Senate," and Bradley immediately endorsing Vice President Al Gore.
"When we began this campaign, we knew that ours was a difficult challenge," McCain, who was seeking the Republican nomination, told a gathering of reporters and backers Thursday morning in his home state. Following Tuesday's scant primary victories -- and multiple losses to Texas Gov. George W. Bush -- McCain said things had become "considerably more difficult," and that the time had come to suspend his campaign.
Sen. John McCain suspended his campaign for president Thursday.
"I am no longer an active candidate for my party's nomination," McCain said.
"A majority of Republican voters made clear that their preference for president is Governor Bush ... I respect their decision." (120K wav file)
"Governor Bush deserves the best wishes of every American," McCain added. "He certainly has mine." (224K wav file)
Bush, at a campaign stop in Englewood, Colorado, thanked McCain for his "gracious" words, and said he hoped to speak with McCain in the near future to hammer out areas of agreement.
"If there is one area of agreement, it is making sure Al Gore does not become president," Bush said. (152K wav file)
"I want to congratulate John for fighting the good fight," Bush said. "He campaigned hard for what he believes, and I appreciate so very much his willingness to enter the arena and talk about the issues dear to his heart."
While congratulating Bush, McCain did not utter any expression of endorsement or support for the Texas governor, saying only that he loved and would stay loyal to the Republican Party.
Bush is said to be eager for McCain's endorsement, and while no meeting between the two has been set, South Carolina Republican Rep. Lindsey Graham -- a high-profile McCain supporter -- said Thursday on Capitol Hill that surrogates for McCain and Bush would soon meet to work out details of a meeting between the two.
McCain's withdrawal leaves only Alan Keyes, a former ambassador who has been drawing single digit support in most primaries, as a Bush rival for the nomination.
An hour before McCain's announcement, Bradley -- Gore's sole competition for the Democratic nomination -- told a crowd of supporters in West Orange, New Jersey, that his campaign for the 2000 Democratic presidential nomination was also at an end.
"Both Ernestine and I are here to call it an end," Bradley said, in reference to his wife. "Following the results of Tuesday night, I have decided to withdraw from the Democratic race for the presidency." (212K wav file)
Bradley and McCain are effectively ceding their respective races to their rivals in the wake of stunning losses in this week's Super Tuesday national primary.
Bradley said he had called Gore earlier in the morning to tell him of his decision and offer his support, though he refused to release the delegates who have pledged their allegiance to him. (180K wav file)
"They deserve to have their voices heard," he said.
That support for the vice president, however, does not constitute a full endorsement, Bradley intimated.
"I believe a Democratic president can do more for this country than a Republican president can," he told reporters Thursday. "(Gore) has my full support," Bradley said, adding that he would "work" with Gore where applicable to help propel the vice president's bid for the White House.
In a statement released later in the day, Gore described Bradley as a "good man," and said he had "great respect" for the former senator. Bradley's campaign was "based on the highest ideals," Gore continued, and had done a large amount of good for the Democratic Party.
"They deserve a tremendous amount of credit for their dedication to
healing the divisions in our country, especially the racial divide. I hope
Bill and Ernestine will continue to devote their considerable talents to serve
their country. America will be better for it," Gore said.
Speaking in Washington, President Bill Clinton said the issues raised by Bradley in the course of the Democratic race "proved the debate was much more substantive on the Democratic side."
"It showed how much agreement there really was," Clinton said.
Bradley faced up to the stark reality that he hadn't won one state primary or caucus in multiple tries against Gore, as advisers informed CNN on Wednesday that he would abandon his bid Thursday and throw his support behind the vice president.
Former Sen. Bill Bradley withdrew Thursday from the presidential race.
Still, the former senator and one-time New York Knicks basketball sensation appeared frustrated with the course of the campaign, and seemed to hold Gore responsible when questioned about his ups and downs on Thursday. He also said he had absolutely no interest in being considered for the vice presidency.
"There was distortion and negativity," Bradley said of his contest with Gore. "I will continue to be very direct about that."
Bradley often presented Gore as an agent of the sort of politics he was out to change, and it is clear that no love was lost between the two through a series of rough-and-tumble debates.
Gore, Bradley said, was representative of Washington's "politics as usual" mentality, while the year-long Bradley campaign had been about a "new politics" that focused on the "good of the American people."
Bradley had often discussed that so-called new politics early in the caucus and primary season, before having to shift to a defensive stance when Gore began sustained attacks on the former senator's national health insurance proposals.
"My commitment to new politics, to those values will never change," Bradley said. "One of the things that my supporters and I had in common was that there was not a lot of self-interest. All of this was more important than even the person running for president."
Not highlighting that absence of self-interest, Bradley reflected, was perhaps the biggest mistake of his campaign.
"Maybe we could have done a better job of getting that across," he said.
Bradley and his wife have big plans following his withdrawal from the 2000 race, the former senator said.
"We're going on vacation," he said with a grin.
McCain's announcement Thursday comes a day before three more primaries in the Western mountain states, including Colorado, where he just shelled out $200,000 for an 11th hour television ad blitz. Bigger primaries loom next Tuesday in several Southern States, including Bush's Texas stronghold and Florida, where Bush's younger brother Jeb is governor.
Meanwhile, by suspending his campaign rather than withdrawing, John McCain leaves open the very remote possibility of resuming his efforts if Bush were to stumble in the Mountain and Southern state primaries scheduled over the next six days. An adviser to McCain said late Wednesday that such a scenario was highly unlikely, adding that Bush would likely emerge from next Tuesday's primaries in the South with enough delegates to secure the nomination.
McCain, who won just four New England states in 13 Super Tuesday primary contests from coast to coast, lost such delegate-rich prizes as New York, California and Ohio.
In a brief appearance in Sedona highlighted by a majestic background of jagged Sonoran mountain faces, McCain, accompanied by his wife and near-constant campaign companion Cindy McCain, said he would now take time to consider the next move of his political career.
"I am suspending my campaign so that Cindy and I can take some time to reflect on our recent experiences, and determine how we can best continue to serve the country, and bring about the changes to the practices and institutions of our great democracy that are the purpose of our campaign."
Like Bradley, McCain ran his bid for the White House on a reform platform, arguing the systems of national government need to be overhauled, the campaign finance system must be retooled, and his own party needs to be shaken up. Unlike Bradley, McCain will not be taking a vacation, but will return to his Senate duties in Washington as early as the week after next, a Senate office source told CNN.
"I had hoped our campaign would be a force for change in the Republican Party, and I believed we have indeed set a course that will ultimately prevail in making our party as big as the country we serve," he said. "Millions of Americans have rallied to our banner, and their support honors not just me, but has ignited the cause of reform."
Bradley, answering reporters' questions in New Jersey, said he believed the cause of reform was "alive and well" in the United States thanks in no small part to his own efforts and McCain's work, but the establishment of both of their parties eventually succeeded in crushing both of their endeavors.
"(McCain) tapped into a spirit of reform," Bradley said. "It just shows how difficult it is to run against entrenched power."
McCain, Bradley said, put "national interest above self interest."
McCain, on the other hand, did not assess the positives and negatives of his campaign, and did not take any questions after delivering his brief statement.
CNN's Bob Franken contributed to this report.