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Romney Leaves Race, Cements McCain's Lead

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney startled conservatives today with a major announcement.

Mr. MITT ROMNEY (Former Republican Governor, Massachusetts): This isn't easy decision. I hate to lose.

SIEGEL: Romney told the conservative conference in Washington that he's dropping out of the presidential race in order to give front runner John McCain a clear shot at the Democrats.

Mr. ROMNEY: If this were only about me, I could go on. But it's never been only about me. I entered this race because I love America. And because I love America, in this time of war, I feel I have to now stand aside for our party and for our country.

(Soundbite of crowd)

SIEGEL: Romney's withdrawal comes two days after the Super Tuesday contest. He had fallen far behind John McCain in the race for delegates.

Joining us now is NPR's Scott Horsley who has been following the Romney campaign. Scott, Romney said Tuesday night that the contest wasn't over, that he plan to fight on to the convention. What's changed?

SCOTT HORSLEY: One thing that changed, Robert, is the size of John McCain's delegate lead became clear. When Romney spoke on Tuesday, they were still counting votes in California. And even though California is not a winner take all state, the winner John McCain, took nearly all the delegates and that really left Romney with no realistic chance of catching him.

SIEGEL: It was a winner-take-all, I think, by congressional district essentially.

HORSLEY: That's right.

SIEGEL: Romney said today in his explanation of why he's dropping out, he said it's because the U.S. is a nation at war and it's important to launch a united campaign against the Democrats who favor withdrawal in Iraq. How important do you think that was to Romney?

HORSLEY: Well look, if Romney still thought he could beat McCain, I don't think he'd care so much about getting out of the way. It's not as if the Democrats have a clear nominee of their own at this point. But Romney is a very smart businessman and he's mantra is look at the numbers. There's truth in numbers. And for him right now, the numbers just don't add up. This is a fellow who made his fortune in business not only by bank rolling promising start up companies, but also by knowing when to pull the plug on failing enterprises and I think that's what he's doing here.

SIEGEL: Yeah. Speaking of his fortune, he sank a lot of his own money into this race.

HORSLEY: That's right. He - $35 million as of the end of last year and no doubt more than that in New Hampshire, Michigan, Nevada and Florida over the first few weeks of this year.

Interestingly, after he lost Florida last week, he did not mount a huge national advertising buying in the days leading up to Super Tuesday. He did advertise in California - he had an ad budget he said somewhere in the seven figure range. But it was nothing like the kind of money, at least on a per capita basis that he had invested earlier in the race. And that was taken by some as a sign that once he lost the Florida primary, even though he kept campaigning, Mitt Romney had rid the writing on the wall.

SIEGEL: Mitt Romney as we heard earlier was very well regarded among very conservative Republicans. He never quite stripped the criticism that he had reinvented himself for this race. And whatever he did, in the way of changing positions, it didn't seem to work.

HORSLEY: No, that's right. As governor of Massachusetts, he had campaigned as a fiscal conservative but sort of a pragmatist and not someone overly concerned with social issues. He reached out to social conservatist when he decided to run for president. But he was out flagged on the right by Mike Huckabee. He later retooled his message and stressed his economic credentials, his business background, but that didn't quite pull him out of the wind in Florida either. Ultimately, Mitt Romney who is a very successful salesman was not able to close his biggest deal.

SIEGEL: Okay. Thanks, Scott.

HORSLEY: My pleasure.

SIEGEL: NPR's Scott Horsley who has been following the Romney campaign for months. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.
Robert Siegel
Prior to his retirement, Robert Siegel was the senior host of NPR's award-winning evening newsmagazine All Things Considered. With 40 years of experience working in radio news, Siegel hosted the country's most-listened-to, afternoon-drive-time news radio program and reported on stories and happenings all over the globe, and reported from a variety of locations across Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, and Asia. He signed off in his final broadcast of All Things Considered on January 5, 2018.