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Forbes pulls the plug after five years, bows out of GOP presidential race

Millionaire publisher heads back to 'Forbes' magazine

By Ian Christopher McCaleb/CNN

February 10, 2000
Web posted at: 5:06 p.m. EST (2206 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Steve Forbes traded in the keys of his presidential campaign bus on Thursday for a return trip to his editing desk at 'Forbes' magazine, by opting to end his self-financed, five year-tenure as a Republican presidential candidate.

At an appearance in Washington, Forbes made the expected announcement that he would abandon his GOP presidential bid.

Forbes, Barr
Steve Forbes greets Rep. Bob Barr,, a staunch supporter.  

"As my father once said when he lost a governor's race in New Jersey: 'We were nosed out by a landslide,'" quipped Forbes, who was flanked by his wife Sabina, two of his five daughters, national campaign manager Ken Blackwell, and Georgia Republican Rep. Bob Barr, a staunch supporter.

"I have no regrets, and you shouldn't either," Forbes told the boisterous group of supporters that attended his departure announcement at a Washington hotel.

"I am withdrawing from the presidential contest but I am not withdrawing from the public square," Forbes said, adding after being pressed by reporters that he plans, for the time being, to return to 'Forbes' magazine, where he is chief executive officer and editor-in-chief.

"I will be going back to 'Forbes' magazine," he said. "As a matter of fact, tomorrow I have to write some editorials. Deadlines are deadlines."

Forbes did say, however, that he has not ruled out running for elective office at a later date. "I'm not ruling anything out," he said.

The well-heeled publishing heir, who poured an estimated $66 million of his personal fortune into the 1996 and 2000 presidential races, decided to toss in the towel on his 2000 bid after a disastrous third-place showing in Tuesday's Delaware GOP primary.

His departure from the race essentially narrows the Republican field of hopefuls to two -- Texas Gov. George W. Bush, who won Delaware with 51 percent of the vote, and Arizona Sen. John McCain. Talk show host Alan Keyes still stands as a candidate, but his ability to make a dent in the support accorded to Bush and McCain seems questionable at best.

Forbes announces his departure from the presidential race.  

Standing by an earlier guarantee, Forbes refused to endorse any of the three Republicans left in the race for the 2000 nomination, though he threw each measured compliments throughout his news conference.

"John McCain, Gov. Bush and Alan Keyes are good people," he said. "I've gotten to know them. ... But endorsements have become a debased currency in the presidential arena.

"What I need to do now is wind down my campaign. An endorsement, if I make one, may come in a few weeks."

Forbes credited his 2000 campaign, which in effect was launched with the end of his 1996 candidacy, with elevating the dialogue among the full Republican field -- which stood at 10 some months ago, before being whittled down to three by Thursday.

"Our new conservative agenda will come to pass, mark my words," he said.

Among the issues he raised to prominence, Forbes insisted, were tax reform; abortion; fair, equitable treatment of those serving in the military and proper benefit distribution to veterans; school choice; greater consumer latitude in dealing with health insurance companies; and the ability of every American to manipulate their Social Security retirement funds as they see fit.

"Who will now pick up the banner of freedom and march to victory this year, I do not know," Forbes said.

The beginning of the end

Forbes, who had been in Michigan for a series of campaign events, canceled those appearances Wednesday and flew home to New Jersey to huddle with his family and his campaign advisors after his unexpected third-place showing in Delaware.

His defeat there, where he enjoys high name recognition -- he won the state's primary in 1996 -- and where he campaigned vigorously in the course of the last week, solidified a decision to withdraw that Forbes had reportedly bandied about since last weekend.

After not winning there (this year), I had to ask myself if we could make this thing work," he said Thursday. "With reluctance, I had to decide that the opportunity did just not appear to be there."

To stay in the race any longer, Forbes continued, would be to do damage to the party, because "(the press) would focus on things like, 'when is he going to get out.'"

Forbes burst on the political scene with his radical, 17 percent flat-tax proposal in 1996, and a series of negative ads that wounded the eventual Republican nominee, former Kansas Sen. Bob Dole. But Forbes failed to expand his base or organize in key states, and his candidacy failed.

With the end of the 1996 presidential election cycle, Forbes opted to begin his 2000 effort with a few new twists, long before Republican establishment favorite Bush and the dark horse McCain tipped their hands and made their intentions to run known.

The publishing heir -- chided from all sides for his background of privilege during the 1996 race -- first moved to retool his campaign operation by building his organization from local offices on up to provide a more "grass roots" feel.

As the 2000 campaign heated up, Forbes chose to look past trends showing that many Republican voters were adopting a moderate lean, and while promoting his flat tax plan, he sharpened his social agenda to include calls against legalized abortion, as well as a series of so-called pro-family, morally based pronouncements.

But the conservative voting bloc Forbes hoped to appeal to was split by a crowded field of right-leaning candidates that included Keyes, Gary Bauer and Sen. Orrin Hatch. The latter two men have left the race.

"The messenger may have gotten tripped up, but if the message is good, he can't regret doing it," he said Thursday.

Forbes' absence will leave a significant amount of conservative votes lying about for Bush and McCain to fight over leading into the February 19 South Carolina primary.

VideoCNN's Bruce Morton looks back on the Forbes campaign.
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