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Giuliani drops out of GOP race, backs McCain

Rudy Giuliani told supporters Wednesday he is abandoning his bid for president and backing Republican rival and longtime friend John McCain.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Rudy Giuliani, who sought to make the leap from New York mayor to the White House, dropped out of the Republican presidential campaign on Wednesday and endorsed front-runner John McCain for the nomination.

Giuliani made the announcement at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library a day after suffering a debilitating defeat in Tuesday's Florida primary.

With McCain at his side, Giuliani said the nation needed "someone who can be trusted in times of crisis."

"Obviously I thought I was that person," the former New York mayor said. "The voters made another choice."

He noted that he and McCain had managed to compete without running negative ads against each other and said, "We will remain friends." He said he would campaign for McCain as much as the Arizona senator wanted.

Giuliani recalled he had said in an earlier debate that McCain would be his choice for president if he were not running himself.

"If I'd endorsed anyone else, you would say I was flip-flopping," he said, mentioning an oft-repeated criticism of McCain's chief rival, Mitt Romney.

McCain called Giuliani a "true American hero" and said they shared political values. 

Once the Republican front-runner, Giuliani finished a distant third in Florida on Tuesday to McCain and second-place finisher Romney. After the results, Republican officials had said Giuliani would endorse McCain.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will endorse McCain on Thursday, his senior aides confirmed Wednesday. The backing was another boost six days before California’s high-prize primary.

‘You don't always win’
Speaking to supporters Tuesday night, Giuliani stopped short of announcing he was stepping down, but delivered a valedictory speech that was more farewell than fight-on.

"I'm proud that we chose to stay positive and to run a campaign of ideas in an era of personal attacks, negative ads and cynical spin," Giuliani said as supporters with tight smiles crowded behind him. "You don't always win, but you can always try to do it right, and you did."

Republican presidential candidates were scheduled to debate at the Reagan presidential library in Simi Valley on Wednesday night.

"I haven't talked to him," McCain said as he boarded a campaign charter plane Wednesday morning. "I'm going to talk to him today when we meet."

As he prepared to leave Florida for California on Wednesday, Giuliani said he was "not yet" ready to announce his intentions.

The big collapse
Tuesday's result was a remarkable collapse for Giuliani. Last year, he occupied the top of national polls and seemed destined to turn conventional wisdom on end by running as a moderate Republican who supported abortion rights, gay rights and gun control.

The results seriously decimated Giuliani's unconventional strategy, which relied heavily on Florida to launch him into the Feb. 5 nominating contests in about two dozen states.

But Florida proved to be less than hospitable. His poll numbers dropped and key endorsements went to McCain.

McCain, addressing his own supporters moments later in Miami, gave Giuliani a warm rhetorical embrace, a possible prologue to accepting Giuliani's expected support.

"I want to thank my dear friend, my dear friend Rudy Giuliani, who invested his heart and soul in this primary and who conducted himself with all the qualities of the exceptional American leader he truly is," McCain said. "

Staking a campaign on 9/11
Giuliani hung his bid for the Republican presidential nomination on his leadership. His stalwart performance as New York mayor in the tense days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York and Washington earned him national magazine covers, international accolades and widespread praise.

Steadfast in a crisis, as a candidate Giuliani was a bundle of contradictions, so much so that he liked to joke that even he did not always agree with himself.

After earning a reputation as a tough-talking, even abusive executive, Giuliani the presidential candidate was mostly mild-mannered in debates, even as those around him got meaner.

As New York mayor, he fostered a take-charge image by rushing to fires and crime scenes to brief the press, but some critics felt he was more concerned about taking credit from others for what became a historic decline in the city's crime rate during his tenure.

A bout with prostate cancer and the very public breakup of his marriage with second wife Donna Hanover — she first learned he was filing for divorce when he made the announcement at a televised news conference — forced Giuliani to withdraw from a race for the U.S. Senate against Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton in 2000. The messy divorce was revisited in awkward detail once he re-entered politics.

With no working strategy in his presidential campaign, no primary victories and dwindling resources, the mayor's third-place finish in Florida spelled the end of his run, even if his crestfallen supporters couldn't believe it.

"They'll be sorry!" a woman with a New York accent called out to the mayor as he spoke.

Said Giuliani: "You sound like my mother."