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McCain To Call a Halt to Campaign
By MIKE GLOVER, Associated Press Writer
SEDONA, Ariz. (AP) -- John McCain, battered in primaries this week and facing yet another grim day of voting Tuesday, has decided to call a halt to his presidential campaign, aides said.
McCain scheduled a news conference today to announce his decision and the only suspense was whether he would get out of the race entirely, or simply put his campaign on hold.
He was not expected to endorse rival George W. Bush today. Advisors were still discussing tactics to keep the themes McCain raised -- including his call for tighter campaign finance rules -- a part of the election debate.
After absorbing a Super Tuesday primary drubbing, McCain huddled with senior strategists and major financial backers at his mountain cabin here to assess the situation.
It didn't take long for strategists to conclude that soldiering on made little sense, and within a few hours Wednesday the campaign schedule was scrapped. Campaign events in Colorado and Illinois were canceled, and aides said McCain had no public events after today's announcement. Two senior campaign aides confirmed that McCain was halting his bid for the nomination.
Most of McCain's senior aides have been urging him to withdraw, saying Bush has built an almost impossible lead in the delegate count. Any doubt of that was erased in this week's round of primaries, aides argued.
''At some point it becomes a math issue,'' said one aide, speaking on condition of anonymity.
There are disagreements, however, about how to handle the exit strategy.
Some have urged McCain to launch a third-party bid, pointing to his strength with independents in the primary season. Putting his campaign on hold would keep that option in play, but McCain has consistently ruled that out, arguing he's a ''loyal Reagan Republican,'' and an aide said ''there's no change in that position.''
McCain's campaign added a spark to a GOP contest that most had expected Bush to dominate, and he rocked the campaign with upset wins in New Hampshire and Michigan. Interest in the GOP fight was high and voter turnout in some early contests soared.
McCain has made it clear that his bid to reshape the Republican party will continue even if he leaves the race, and much of the campaign discussion focused on how to gain leverage with Bush.
That explained the lack of a Bush endorsement and the refusal to completely rule out a third party bid. Aides said McCain has generated enthusiasm on the campaign trail, and wants to translate that into changes in the GOP.
''I can't conceive of John jumping from the Republican Party, but I certainly can conceive of John being pushed into it,'' said political director John Weaver. Weaver has been among a minority advocating McCain stepping away from the party to continue a run for the White House.
''He's not going to walk away from issues he cares about,'' Weaver said. ''He's going to continue fighting for that. There are all kinds of avenues to do that.''
A key to McCain's plans will be Bush's reaction. Despite defeating McCain soundly, Bush presumably would want to reach out to independent voters who rallied to McCain's cause and that could require some degree of accommodation.
The primary campaign has been bruising and there's been little effort to seek middle ground so far, but political realities could alter that.
There were few options facing McCain after the latest round of primaries. He stunned Bush with a landslide win in New Hampshire, and rocked the campaign with a big win in Michigan.
But he fared poorly in this week's giant round of primaries, and Bush began to pile up a big lead in delegates. Things would only get worse for McCain as next week includes Florida and Texas, both states with governors named Bush and huge delegate totals.
-- (firstname.lastname@example.org), March 09, 2000
What a wuss.
-- Porky (Porky@in.cellblockD), March 09, 2000.