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Romney Clears Path for McCain

Despite an $88.5 million war chest, Romney leaves the GOP race -- and leaves it wide open for McCain.
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Thursday at the Conservative Political Action Conference, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney ended his run for the presidency. The move comes as little surprise.

The nomination had been a long shot for Romney, being so much less familiar to the public than John McCain and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

Romney's best strategy to overcome this problem was an aggressive campaign. Raising millions of dollars through his ties to both the political and private sector, combined with a personal fortune, Romney banked an impressive war chest of $88.5 million -- $35.5 million of it his own money.

Romney had a successful attack-ad campaign. He decried Giuliani's immigration stance, calling New York City under his guidance a "sanctuary city" for illegal immigrants. He hammered McCain for flip-flopping on Bush's tax cuts, supporting immigration amnesty, and silencing soft money with campaign finance reform. He assailed Mike Huckabee for raising taxes in his home state of Arkansas.

It verged on becoming personal.

It worked, too, for a while. Romney picked up support from politically correct conservatives. Conservative radio commentators like Rush Limbaugh, Laura Ingram and Hugh Hewitt stood strong behind Romney while lambasting McCain for anti-conservative positions. Romney also picked up a critical endorsement from William Buckley's

National Review

.

His candidacy appeared on track heading into Iowa and New Hampshire in early December. Suddenly, almost out of nowhere, Huckabee's campaign caught fire and burned Romney. Huckabee won an upset in Iowa with massive support from conservative Christians -- support that Romney needed to beat McCain and Giuliani.

The race soon became a three-person affair. As Romney attacked both Huckabee and McCain, Republican voters looked from someone they trust. As Huckabee lost favor, McCain's star rose.

Romney's campaign faced a severe setback in his own backyard, New Hampshire. Two prominent papers wrote anti-endorsements against him questioning his character and saying he'd changed since his first run for governor of Massachusetts.

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Despite the setback in New Hampshire, Romney campaigned hard. He came from behind in Michigan, where he ran a positive campaign based on a message of economic renewal. He upset McCain.

But Romney couldn't overcome two difficult obstacles. First, the media characterization of him as a flip-flopper stuck, while McCain chugged on with his "straight-talk express." Second, Huckabee continued to stay in the race, despite dispiriting finishes in a variety of states, including a second place finish in South Carolina.

Florida sealed the deal. McCain won a narrow race, in particular fueled by Hispanics and Republicans unhappy with the Bush administration. Huckabee finished fourth behind Giuliani, but he refused to pull out of the race.

The more Romney tried to turn the narrative into a two-person affair, the more stubborn Huckabee became. Pundits questioned why Huckabee remained in a hopeless race: Was he angling to become McCain's vice president? Of course, only time will tell us.

It clearly frustrated Romney as he railed against Huckabee and Ron Paul for not pulling the out the weekend prior to Super Tuesday. Romney proved to be right.

The first contest of the day in West Virginia's nominating convention tells the tail of Romney's demise. Romney failed to get the required 50% to win the nomination on the first ballot, securing only 41%. According to

reports from the convention, the candidates conspired to hand the victory to Huckabee.

When Super Tuesday came to a close, Romney has lost all momentum to McCain. According to CNN, McCain secured a commanding delegate lead: 714 to 268. The race was over.

Romney offered these remarks at CPAC:

"This is not an easy decision for me. I hate to lose. My family, my friends and our supporters, many of you right here in this room have given a great deal to get me where I have a shot at becoming president. 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."

Romney ran a tough race and lost. He now appears ready to throw his support behind the clear front-runner in the field: John McCain.