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McCain, Bradley Drop Out, Vow Causes Will Continue

By T. Christian Miller and Matea Gold
LOS ANGELES TIMES -- With wistful farewells spurred by cold-hearted realities, challengers John McCain and Bill Bradley bowed out of the presidential contest on Thursday insisting that their messages will survive their failed candidacies.

Against a breathtaking backdrop of snow-capped buttes in Sedona, Ariz., near his vacation home, McCain announced he was suspending his campaign -- holding onto his 231 delegates but effectively ceding the Republican nomination to Texas Gov. George W. Bush.

“I am no longer an active candidate for my party’s nomination for president,” said the Arizona senator, whose unorthodox campaign tactics and bold persona helped him win seven primaries but later led to his undoing. “I hoped our campaign would be a force for change in the Republican Party, and I believe we have indeed set a course that will ultimately prevail in making our party as big as the country we serve.”

An hour earlier, the Democratic race ended as former New Jersey Sen. Bradley offered his own valedictory in the wake of Tuesday’s defeat against Vice President Al Gore.

“We have been defeated, but the cause for which I ran has not been, the cause of trying to create a new politics in this country, the cause of trying to fulfill our special promise as a nation,” Bradley declared at a banquet hall in West Orange, N.J., near his campaign headquarters.

Bradley endorsed Gore, but said he would not release his 412 delegates because they deserved to have their voices heard at the party’s national convention this summer in Los Angeles. McCain did not endorse Bush, indicating that he was waiting until Bush embraces the senator’s effort to reform the nation’s system of campaign financing. He also ruled out a third-party bid.

The surviving candidates-cum-nominees, meanwhile, continued their already contentious battle for November, with the newly disenfranchised voters in mind. Bush, clothing himself with the mantle of reform, blasted Gore as a campaign finance hypocrite.

“What’s going to win (McCain’s) supporters over is when they realize Al Gore is no reformer and Al Gore is no John McCain,” said Bush, who had spent considerable effort in the primaries to convince Republicans that McCain was uncomfortably close to Gore in terms of policy.

“I think McCain voters will be looking for somebody who’ll bring honor and integrity to the White House. McCain voters want to hear somebody who’s got a positive vision to make sure the American dream touches every willing heart.”

While endorsing Gore, Bradley insisted that the country should pursue his platform of eradicating poverty, providing universal health care and enacting campaign finance reform.

For McCain, leaving the race seemed more difficult for him than it was for Bradley, perhaps because until recently he was still a competitive alternative to Bush.

Of the two challengers, McCain leaves behind the largest bloc of voters, although they seemed to be united less by ideology than an attraction to the charismatic senator. If he chooses to hold his delegates until the Republican convention in Philadelphia this summer, McCain will control seven state delegations, giving him at least a small voice in party matters.