Mitt Romney announced he was suspending his presidential campaign on Thursday, a move that all but cedes the Republican nomination to rival Sen. John McCain.
Romney — a former Massachusetts governor who spent $35 million of his own money in pursuit of the White House, as well as millions more that he raised from others — told the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C., that dropping out was for the good of the Republican Party, which needs to unite for the general election.
"If I fight on in my campaign, all the way to the convention, I would forestall the launch of a national campaign and make it more likely that Senator Clinton or (Barack) Obama would win," he said. "And in this time of war, I simply cannot let my campaign be a part of aiding a surrender to terror."
Romney added that it was not an easy decision for him. "I hate to lose. My family, my friends and our sponsors ... have given a great deal."
"I entered this race because I love America, and because I love America, I feel I must now stand aside, for our party, and for our country," he said.
With McCain's apparently unassailable lead in the delegate count, Romney's withdrawal effectively hands the nomination to the maverick Arizona senator.
Romney's departure leaves only former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Texas Rep. Ron Paul in the race with McCain. Neither of them comes close to the 1,191 delegates needed to secure the Republican nomination.
Overall, McCain has 707 delegates, Romney 294 and Huckabee 195. Romney did not say what he will do with the delegates he has won so far.
Romney failed to win a major primary or caucus. He was successful in states he has lived in and states close by. But he failed to win over Republican evangelicals suspicious of his Mormon faith, who turned instead to Huckabee, an ordained Baptist minister.
Romney was also accused of flip-flopping from relatively liberal to conservative positions.
Romney often called himself the "conservative's conservative" and has frequently assailed McCain's moderate credentials. On Thursday, Romney gave McCain qualified praise but did not offer an endorsement.
"I disagree with Sen. McCain on a number of issues, as you know. But I agree with him on doing whatever it takes to be successful in Iraq, on finding and executing Osama bin Laden, and on eliminating al-Qaida and terror," Romney said.