WASHINGTON — Democrat Bruce Babbitt and Republican Pierre S. (Pete) du Pont IV, two former governors who campaigned as outsiders willing to challenge their parties' orthodoxies, dropped out of the presidential race Thursday. Neither endorsed another candidate for now.
In analyzing his defeat, Babbitt provided an epitaph that could apply to either campaign. "It's asking an awful lot (of voters) to say: 'Consider both a new messenger and a challenging and difficult message,' " he said at the Washington news conference where he announced his withdrawal from the race.
"There's a little bit of lag time, acceptance time, in American politics."
Both men, newcomers to the national stage, took on powerful traditions and constituencies: Babbitt, for example, called for a means test that would limit Social Security benefits for the wealthy, while Du Pont proposed an end to federal farm subsidies and a plan to phase in a private system of retirement benefits that could replace Social Security.
In ending their campaigns, both insisted that although they had lost, their crusades had changed the race--and both hinted they might try again in the future. "The fascinating thing about American democracy is we tend, historically, to postpone coming to grips with change," said Babbitt, 49, the former governor of Arizona. "What I've been trying to do in the last five or six months is drive the other candidates toward the water hole."
'Moved Challenges Forward'
Du Pont, 53, a former Delaware governor and congressman, noted the controversial positions he has taken and said: "We have moved those challenges forward to the center of the debate; they are urgent, they are real, they will not disappear."
Babbitt is the first of the Democratic candidates to withdraw from the race this year, though two candidates, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware and former Sen. Gary Hart of Colorado, quit during 1987. Hart re-entered the race later in the year.
Du Pont is the second GOP candidate to withdraw from the race, following former Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr., who pulled out Friday.
As two little-known candidates whose ideas were outside the norm, Babbitt and Du Pont often were thrown together during the long, early days of the campaign. In Iowa last May, for example, they staged a two-man debate, one of the earliest events of the campaign.
Babbitt began his race early last spring, spending much of his time crisscrossing Iowa looking for support. Du Pont has been stumping for the nomination even longer, formally announcing his candidacy in September, 1986.
In withdrawing, each man praised the often-criticized primary process, saying the long, drawn-out campaigns are necessary if dark horses like themselves are to have any chance to put their ideas before the voters.
Support for Nominee
Each pledged to support whomever his party nominated and offered kind words for the other candidates still in the race, and both commented on the increasingly bitter tinge of the campaign on the Republican side.
"Instead of trading charges and countercharges, let's talk about the future of the country," said Du Pont, expressing a hope that the Republican front-runners, Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas and Vice President George Bush, would stop feuding.
Babbitt, characteristically, was more blunt. "Civil war has broken out in the asylum," he said of the Republicans. "I think that bodes well for the Democratic Party."
Appearing with his wife, Hattie, their sons Christopher, 12, and T.J., 10, and Rep. Morris K. Udall of Arizona--a former Democratic presidential hopeful whom Babbitt described as a "mentor"--Babbitt repeatedly displayed the wit and humor that had made him a favorite of the press, if not the voters.
'Fought a Good Fight'
One friend, he said, had told him: "You fought a good fight, you were in it right up to the beginning." When asked whether he saw himself as a potential vice presidential candidate, Babbitt replied: "My advice to the nominee would be, in all candor: 'You probably ought to select a vice presidential nominee from a state with more than seven electoral votes.'
"In my next life, in my reincarnation, I've decided I'm going to be born . . . in Texas," he said.
Babbitt also joked that reporters had written so many flattering stories about him that it indicated "a deliberate conspiracy to destroy my candidacy by making me into kind of a house pet." Later, more seriously, he conceded that favorable publicity, complimenting him for his willingness to take unpopular stands, might have prompted him to overemphasize the unpopular parts of his message--particularly his call for a tax increase.
"If I were doing it over again," Babbitt said, he might "spend a little more time talking about other things," such as his advocacy of environmental causes and his call for more attention to education, day care and other "children's issues."
Second Spot Rejected