Former Tennessee governor Lamar Alexander, who began running for president in early 1993 and never stopped, announced yesterday that he was quitting the race for the Republican nomination, saying there was "no realistic way" to keep going.
Alexander's withdrawal came after he finished a disappointing sixth in Saturday's Iowa Republican straw poll despite the active support of former Iowa governor Terry E. Branstad and a personal investment of time in the state that was unmatched by his rivals.
"My heart tells me to keep going, and so did a lot of telephone calls this morning, but there is really no realistic way to do that," Alexander told a news conference in Nashville.
The announcement by Alexander came as former vice president Dan Quayle, who finished eighth in the straw poll, said he is reorganizing his campaign to concentrate resources on the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary, which begin the actual nominating process next year.
Quayle's campaign suffered staff defections in South Carolina to Arizona Sen. John McCain's organization, but Jonathan Baron, the campaign spokesman, said, "We are going to implement a reorganization, moving all paid staff to Iowa and New Hampshire. The rats may be jumping ship, but the ship is not sinking."
Alexander, a former education secretary, became the third casualty of a Republican presidential race that has been dominated by Texas Gov. George W. Bush. Earlier this summer, New Hampshire Sen. Robert C. Smith quit the race and his party, and last week said he will seek the nomination of the U.S. Taxpayers Party. Ohio Rep. John R. Kasich also dropped out, endorsing Bush.
Alexander said he would not endorse any of the others in the GOP field and said that while there was powerful support within the party for Bush's candidacy, the Iowa straw poll also showed that party activists want to see a real contest and debate before settling on a nominee. He said the nomination should not be decided on the amount of money a candidate has in the bank.
Alexander unsuccessfully sought the GOP nomination in 1996. He finished third in the Iowa caucuses and third in the New Hampshire primary and argued that, with a few thousand more votes in New Hampshire, he might have driven Robert J. Dole out of the race and become the party's nominee. He was best remembered in that campaign, however, for announcing his candidacy in a red-and-black plaid shirt, a symbol that seemed to overwhelm his message.
Alexander was one of the nation's leading governors in the early 1980s, seen as a rival to then-Gov. Bill Clinton of Arkansas for national prominence. He was a determined campaigner, but in both 1996 and this year had difficulty finding a niche for his message.
Tom Rath, a top adviser to Alexander, said his candidate was a victim of the dominance Bush has enjoyed so far this year. "Nobody could have predicted that there would be the kind of hegemony over the race that the Bush candidacy has captured," he said. "I don't think they even knew it was going to be as good as this."
Quayle's campaign ignored the former vice president's poor finish in Iowa with a defiant statement issued yesterday afternoon. "No one should underestimate Dan Quayle's dedication to the conservative principles for which he has battled his entire public life," campaign manager Kyle McSlarrow said. "Dan Quayle remains absolutely committed to the idea that his conservative message--and not money--will prevail in this nomination contest."