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Romney halts campaign, defers to McCain

WASHINGTON (BP)–Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney suspended his campaign Feb. 7, saying it was time to make way for a national effort by GOP opponent John McCain.

Romney, whose effort had been promoted especially by conservative Republicans in recent weeks, ended a campaign that started disappointingly with the Iowa caucuses in early January and never gained the momentum he needed to win the nomination. Instead, McCain, whose campaign appeared dead several months ago, won the New Hampshire primary, which followed Iowa, and built a convincing lead after Super Tuesday voting Feb. 5.

McCain, a United States senator from Arizona, has 720 delegates, while Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, has 279, according to the latest tabulations by RealClearPolitics.com. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee has 197 delegates; Rep. Ron Paul of Texas has 14. A candidate needs 1,191 delegates to win the GOP nomination.

Romney’s withdrawal seemingly makes McCain’s nomination even more likely, although Huckabee, a former Southern Baptist pastor, hopes to change that. Huckabee has done well in several states where evangelical Christians have a strong influence on the GOP -– he swept the Southern states of Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia and Tennessee Feb. 5, in addition to winning West Virginia, and took Iowa. He hopes to do well in the Louisiana and Kansas primaries Saturday and the Virginia primary Tuesday. He has struggled to win in states that don’t have a strong social conservative presence.

Romney and McCain tangled frequently in recent weeks. Romney acknowledged their differences in a speech championing conservative principles at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington that included his withdrawal announcement

“But I agree with [McCain] on doing whatever it takes to be successful in Iraq, on finding and executing Osama bin Laden and on eliminating Al Qaeda and terror,” Romney said of McCain, according to his prepared remarks. “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.”

Romney added, “If this were only about me, I would go on. But I entered this race because I love America, and because I love America, I feel I must now stand aside, for our party and for our country.”

Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said of Romney’s reason for halting his campaign, “That’s an eloquent statement of Mr. Romney’s patriotism and his love for his country, and I think all Americans should be inspired by it.”

Sens. Hillary Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois are in a nearly dead heat for the Democratic nomination. According to RealClearPolitics.com, Clinton leads Obama in the delegate count, 1,060 to 981, with 2,025 delegates needed to win the nomination.

While McCain led Senate support for the U.S. military surge that has produced clear improvement in the situation in Iraq, Clinton and Obama have promised to pull troops out of that country.

Many conservatives remain strongly critical of McCain because of his positions on campaign finance reform, immigration, global warming and funding for embryonic stem cell research. Other conservatives, though, say McCain would be acceptable because of his pro-life record on abortion, his pledge to appoint “strict constructionist” Supreme Court justices, his stance on the Iraq war and his stated desire to control spending.

Romney never was able to gain the votes of many conservatives despite running on a platform that would have appeared to appeal to them. His rather recent conversions on issues like abortion and embryonic research funding may have left many pro-life and pro-family advocates skeptical. A Mormon, Romney addressed the subject of his religion and its influence on his governance in a December speech.

Romney won primaries or caucuses in Alaska, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Utah and Wyoming.
Compiled by Tom Strode, Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, and Michael Foust, assistant editor of Baptist Press.

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