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Breaking News

Presidential Candidate Sen. John McCain Suspends Campaign, Wishes Gov. George W. Bush Well

Aired March 9, 2000 - 12:00 p.m. ET


FRANK SESNO, CNN ANCHOR: We want to start with another candidate who's ending his bid for the White House and will be announcing it in just a few minutes. Arizona Senator John McCain has had nearly 48 hours to assess his Super Tuesday losses to George W. Bush and what it means for his future and his reform agenda.

CNN's senior White House correspondent John King is covering the campaign and joins us now from Sedona, Arizona.

John, what do we know about what the senator's going to say and what he's going to do?

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: In just a few moments, Frank, we will hear Senator John McCain announce he is suspending his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination. That is a term that will allow him to keep his options open, keep his delegates to the Republican National Convention, but make no mistake about it: the senator and his aides know that his campaign for the presidency effectively ends here today in Sedona, Arizona.

In his statement, we're told, Senator McCain will wish Governor George W. Bush of Texas well; he will not formally endorse the governor today, however. McCain looking to use his delegates and his voice for reform as some leverage now, hoping to see in the next few days and weeks a transformation, if you will, on the part of Governor Bush. Senator McCain heading out, heading to the exits today, but still will make the case that he has proven there is room for a reform message in the Republican Party, promising today as his campaign ends in his prepared remarks that his crusade will continue.

He spent some $36 million along the way, won just seven primaries, though, and he says in his statement that we will hear in just a few minutes that it became clear on Super Tuesday that Governor Bush would be the Republican nominee. Again, he will wish the governor well as he bows out but withhold a formal endorsement for now -- Frank.

SESNO: John, I'm told that the senator's campaign received from -- some very frank advice from some senior advisers, many of them back here in Washington, that he needed to calm down, make peace and move forward. What do you know about that?

KING: Well, certainly, the Republican Party wants to come together now. If you look at the polls, the vice president, Gore, in a strong position vis-a-vis Governor Bush right now. The Republican Party wants unity.

You hear cheers here. Senator McCain is making his way to the site where he will make his announcement.

The Republicans want to bring the party together. Senator McCain known as a maverick, known as someone to challenge his party. Senior advisers saying the delegate math after Super Tuesday was devastating and that it was best for him to quickly get out. Some of his advisers wanted to have this announcement Friday. We're told, though, as the senator called friends and supporters around the country yesterday he wanted to end this today.

SESNO: Now John, we understand, as you mentioned, that the senator has arrived at the event. He's making his way through the crowd to the podium. There you see him with his wife, Cindy. They were inseparable during this campaign. And now the senator from Arizona.


We knew when we began this campaign that ours was a difficult challenge. Last Tuesday, that challenge became considerably more difficult as a majority of Republican voters made clear their preference for president is Governor Bush. I respect their decision, and I'm truly grateful for the distinct privilege of even being considered for the highest in this, the greatest nation in the history of mankind.

Therefore, I announce today, on this fine Arizona morning and in this beautiful place, that I am no longer an active candidate for my party's nomination for president. I congratulate Governor Bush and wish him and his family well. He may very well become the next president of the United States. That is an honor accorded to very few and is such a great responsibility that he deserves the best wishes of every American. He certainly has mine.

I'm suspending my campaign so that Cindy and I can take some time to reflect on our recent experiences and determine how we can best continue to serve the country and help bring about the changes to the practices and the institutions of our great democracy that are the purpose of our campaign, for we believe these changes are essential to ensuring the continued success of the American experiment and keeping America in this new century as bright a beacon of hope for mankind as it was in the last.

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.

Millions of Americans have rallied to our banner, and their support not just honors me, but has ignited the cause of reform, a cause far greater and more important than the ambitions any single candidate. I love my party. It is my home. Ours is the party of Lincoln, Roosevelt and Reagan. That's good company for any American to keep, and it is a distinct privilege to serve the same cause that those great Americans dedicated their lives to.

But I'm also dedicated to the necessary cause of reform, and I will never walk away from a fight for what I know is right and just for our country.


As I said throughout the campaign, what is good for my country is good for my party. Should our party ever abandon this principle, the American people will rightly abandon us, and we will surely slip into the mists of history, deserving the allegiance of none.

So I will take our crusade back to the United States Senate and I will keep fighting to save the government, to give the government back to the people, to keep our promises to young and old alike by paying our debts, saving Social Security and Medicare and reforming a tax code that benefits the powerful few at the expense of many.

And with your help, my fellow Americans, we will keep trying to force open doors where there are walls to your full participation in the great enterprises of our democracy, be they walls of cynicism or intolerance or walls raised by self-interested elite who would exclude your voice from the highest councils of our government.

I want to take a final moment to speak to all those who joined our party to support our campaign, many of whom voted in this election for the first time. Thank you. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. Your support means more to me than I can ever say.

But I ask from you one last promise: Promise me that you will never give up, that you will continue your service in the worthy cause of revitalizing our democracy.

Our crusade will never accomplish all its goals if your voices fall silent in our national debate. You are and always will be the best thing about this campaign and the best hope for our country's future success. Stay in this fight with us. We need your service as much as ever.

Millions of Americans over the years have by their example showed us that America and her causes are worth dying for. Surely she is worth living for. That is what I ask of all Americans who found in our campaign an expression for their patriotism. I am so proud of you and so grateful for your company.

I've been in my country's service since I was 17 years old. I neither know nor want any other life, for I can find no greater honor than service. You served your country in this campaign by fighting for the causes that will sustain America's greatness. Keep fighting, my friends, keep fighting. America needs you.

Thank you my friends, thank you so much for helping me remember what it means to be a public servant in this, the most blessed and most important nation on Earth. It has been the greatest privilege of my life. Thank you.


SESNO: Fairly brief statement there by Senator John McCain, saying he is ceasing his campaign as an active candidate for the presidency as a Republican, offering George W. Bush his best wishes but not an outright endorsement, saying he, quote, "he may very well become the next president," saying that he will continue his fight for reform and making it clear, but not saying so explicitly, that he'll do so from within the Republican Party. Senior advisers to John McCain say he wanted to send a signal today, a signal that he would stay within the party and not become a third-party candidate, as some suggested just a few days ago.

Want to go over to Bill Schneider, our political analyst, and see, Bill, what your take is on this speech. We've been following John McCain and this phenomenon that he's created on the campaign trail all along, and here it ends.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: And it was a real phenomenon, and it still is. The message is there. Millions of Americans said in his campaign that they were -- they may be satisfied with the economy, satisfied with their own lives, but they think there's something drastically wrong with American politics and they wanted change.

The problem was, in this -- at this point in this campaign year, the Republican Party was not receptive to that message. McCain's voice will continue to be heard not just during the campaign, but especially imagine what will happen if George Bush loses this race.

SESNO: Also joined by Jeff Greenfield.

Jeff, to quote the senator here, "should our party abandon principle, the people will abandon us."

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SR. ANALYST: Yes. I think there was a marker being laid down in this talk by Senator McCain telling the Republican Party, you've got to listen to these people who came to my campaign. And while I think that this third-party speculation is mostly the work of journalist who just don't want to see an eight- month general election campaign without anymore excitement, he clearly was saying to the party, you will -- you will ignore this message at your peril, and that we have begun a process, as happened in other years, that may wind up in changing the base and the message of the party, and I, John McCain, mean to do that.

But it was also interesting that, unlike Senator Bradley, he took no questions from the press, and I would just guess that he did not want to get into a half-hour long discussion of what went wrong, are you bitter, are you angry; he just wanted to have this message out there untainted by us.

SESNO: Maybe, Jeff, he felt he's taken one Straight Talk Express ride too many, or at least for the time being.

John King, back to you. You've been following John McCain for quite some time. Your thought and reflections as you heard this today.

KING: Well, I think this very subdued statement from the senator reflects very much of what you've just been discussing. He, frankly, does not believe that Governor Bush will make a commitment to the kind of campaign and other government reforms he believes are necessary. He, of course, was harshly critical of the vice president, Al Gore, during this campaign, he does not believe that the vice president is committed to these kind of reforms and he is now going back to the United States Senate, where he won the maverick label, the maverick reputation because his own party's leadership back in the Senate is very much opposed to the very things John McCain stands for.

We're told by aides he is indeed quite subdued because he now finds himself in a very difficult place: He has lost the nomination, yet he is demanding things of the presumptive-Republican nominee. He doesn't know quite now how to do that, we're told, and he feels like many candidates do, that he might perhaps be letting his supporters down.

SESNO: John, your thoughts on this: I'm told, today, in talking to people around town and those who are in close contact with the McCain campaign, that what John McCain wants is for George W. Bush and the party and the platform at some point to embrace reform, and not just words about reform but the reform of the process, government process, campaign-finance reform. And this is going to be tough, because what John McCain wants, end of soft money and some of this business that he says has been polluting the political process, George W. Bush and the Republican Party establishment don't want to get anywhere near.

KING: Well, exactly, right. What John McCain wants is exactly the opposite of what George W. Bush is doing as we speak: preparing now to transfer his campaign staff to the Republican National Committee, preparing now to have the Republican National Committee raise million of dollars in soft money so he can run so-called issues ad in the spring and early summer months. Remember back to the 1996 campaign: President Clinton did that, used Democratic Party money to frame the race against Bob Dole. The Democrats did it very successfully. The Republicans have learned a lesson from that. They want to do it now. John McCain thinks that money should be illegal.

So, he's getting out of the race just as the nominee, the presumptive nominee, George W. Bush, prepares to do the very thing John McCain dislikes the most. So, he's in a very difficult position, and again, he's going back to the United States Senate, where he is not very welcome, even in his own caucus.

GREENFIELD: And Frank, you'll notice that in Governor Bush's statements, even beginning, I believe, Tuesday night, what he's trying to do is to adopt the reform label and put it not in the area that McCain is talking about, real campaign-finance reform, but into his substantive plans. I mean, I have a feeling you're going to see this reformer-with-results more into more reform even than he had spoken after New Hampshire. That is: Yes, I'm a reformer, look what I've done on education. Here's what I want to do in Social Security. Al Gore is the candidate of the status quo.

But where -- I think John has put his finger on exactly the dilemma here is that for John McCain the issue is more than just those substantive matters, it is changing the campaign process itself, and neither Governor Bush nor, for that matter, Vice President Gore have shown really any interest in that. I believe that Vice President Gore has already begun to collect some soft money for his effort in the spring. And That leaves John McCain, in terms of the theme of campaign-finance reform, still kind of standing there by himself in terms of the Republican Party and most of the Democratic Party.

SCHNEIDER: And Frank, if I can...

SESNO: Bill Schneider, go ahead.

SCHNEIDER: Yes. He said just a minute ago he wanted to be a force for change within the Republican Party. There is an argument in the Republican Party going on right now. John McCain is saying the Republicans lost the '92 and in '96 and in '98 because they were a party dominated by a conservative ideology and that is not a winning strategy in this country; you can't win as an ideological party, you have to be a reform party. And conservatives, rightly, felt threatened by that, and they resisted that kind of change. Their argument is that the Republicans lost in '92 and '96 because they put up what conservatives call "mushy moderates": President Bush, Bob Dole; they didn't have a hard- or strong-enough message comparable to Ronald Reagan or the Contract With America when they won in '94.

This is a very big argument over what the nature of the Republican Party should be. What will settle that argument? I'll tell you: Whether George Bush wins or loses, if George Bush loses in November, then you're going to find a lot of Republicans having suffered three losses in a row, '92, '96, 2000, they're going to turn around and they're going to say, you know, this isn't working, we ought to listen to what John McCain has to say.

SESNO: Bill Schneider, John King, Jeff Greenfield, stay where you are, we're going to come back to you.


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