updated 6/6/2006 12:37:20 PM ET 2006-06-06T16:37:20

Bill Weld, the former Massachusetts governor, dropped out of the New York governor’s race Tuesday, saying it was time to look beyond his own aspirations for the good of the party.

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The state GOP backed former Assembly Minority Leader John Faso as its candidate last week, meaning a potentially bruising and expensive September primary if Weld had stayed in the race.

“It’s no secret I’m a believer in the utility of primaries in many contexts,” Weld said Tuesday at a news conference at his Manhattan headquarters. “But I do think there’s a time to look beyond your aspirations for the bigger picture. This is not a time for a contested primary.”

The New York native could have been the first man since Sam Houston to be the governor of two states; Houston was elected chief executive of Tennessee in 1827 and of Texas in 1859.

After the party came out in favor of Faso, Weld lost one of his strongest supporters — New York Republican Party Chairman Stephen Minarik, who on Monday recommended Weld drop out of the race “in the name of party unity.”

The Democrats’ candidate for governor, Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, already held a strong lead in polls over either Republican, and GOP officials worried that a contested primary would damage their chances to hang on the governor’s office. Republican Gov. George Pataki is not seeking a fourth four-year term.

“I applaud Bill Weld for his selfless act of courage,” Minarik said Tuesday. “His actions today will help bring unity to the Republican Party and make our party’s chances to win the governor’s race even stronger.”

Faso won a surprising 61 percent of the delegates’ weighted vote during last week’s Republican state convention, compared to 39 percent for Weld. Faso also has the endorsement of the Conservative Party.

“I wasn’t prepared for the stunning political performance that John Faso has delivered thus far and I believe he will continue to deliver all the way to November,” Weld said in his announcement Tuesday.

Faso, who joined him, said Weld’s move would “give the people a very clear choice this November.”

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