Democrat Bruce Babbitt and Republican Pierre S. (Pete) du Pont IV, on the heels of disappointing losses in Iowa and New Hampshire, dropped out of the presidential race today, declaring their futile campaigns the opportunity of a lifetime.
Both du Pont, former governor of Delaware, and Babbitt, former governor of Arizona, said they would not endorse another candidate for now.
The two became the first post-New Hampshire casualties.
Babbitt made his exit gracefully in a quip-filled Washington news conference. "Look, I'm not going to slash my throat if we don't raise taxes tomorrow," said the former governor, who had asked voters to stand up for a national sales tax to reduce the deficit.
'Sooner Than Expected'
Babbitt said he was reminded of the biblical saying, "The truth shall set you free." In his case, he said, the truth--his poor showings in Iowa and New Hampshire--"came a lot sooner than I expected."
Still, he said, "Today I am free."
"Although I am withdrawing from this race, I am not withdrawing from the cause that brought me to it," he said. "I don't know why we fared no better; I'll leave that for others to ponder. But I am very proud of what we did achieve and I am honored beyond measure by the opportunity I was granted to take part in this campaign."
Babbitt, who formally announced his candidacy on March 10, 1987, failed to set the electorate afire with his call for a national sales tax, but received good press reviews for his candor and wry humor.
'A Good Start'
He said today a friend had told him, "Bruce, you fought a good fight. You were in it right up to the beginning."
Babbitt said he will not yet endorse any of the six remaining Democratic contenders. "They are all first-rate people and I could support any one of them," he said.
Du Pont, a conservative whose provocative ideas about fundamental change in Social Security and abolition of farm subsidies failed to attract much voter support, announced his withdrawal in a news conference in Wilmington, Del.
"Today our campaign lowers its flag, but our crusade continues to march," he said.
"In America we do not promise that everyone wins, only that everyone has the opportunity to try. You have given me the opportunity. . . . You listened, considered and chose. I could not have asked for more," said du Pont, heir to the chemical-company fortune.
No Endorsement Now
He said his ideas are right for the country and "they're coming to America sooner or later."
He said he wouldn't endorse another candidate immediately.
Du Pont took note of his controversial stands on such issues as mandatory drug testing for high school students and elimination of farm subsidies.
"We have moved those challenges forward to the center of the debate; they are urgent, they are real, they will not disappear," he said. "Neither will our efforts to address them. All of us can pause to catch our breath; none of us should think it time to end our quest."
Du Pont entered the Republican race on Sept. 16, 1986, and, along with Rep. Jack Kemp of New York, sought to present himself as the conservative alternative to front-runners Bob Dole and George Bush.
But he finished far down in the Iowa caucuses, and in New Hampshire on Tuesday he won his only two delegates, finishing a distant fourth behind Kemp although slightly ahead of former television evangelist Pat Robertson.
Babbitt finished fifth in Iowa last week and sixth in New Hampshire on Tuesday.
Du Pont withdrew just six days after Alexander M. Haig Jr. gave up his GOP candidacy, leaving four Republicans in the 1988 race. Babbitt, the first Democrat to quit this year, left six Democrats in the field.