DES MOINES — Tom Tancredo, the Colorado congressman best known for his bellicose views on immigration, pulled out of the race for the Republican presidential nomination Thursday and threw his support behind former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
Tancredo also took credit for moving what he described as the "perilous consequences of massive, uncontrolled illegal immigration" to the forefront of the presidential campaign at what was likely the best-attended news conference of his back-of-the-pack run.
"Just this month, the Economist, the New Yorker, the Wall Street Journal and even the New York Times have grudgingly accredited my campaign with forcing the issue of immigration to the forefront of the national stage," he said before a thicket of television cameras and reporters in a hotel ballroom here.
Not only that, he said, but those same publications gave him credit for "forcing nearly every Republican presidential candidate to commit themselves to an immigration plan that calls for securing our borders and enforcing our immigration laws."
Not even the Democrats, Tancredo said, were immune from his immigration onslaught. They were "tortured," he said, and lived in fear that a public misstatement on the controversial issue could cost them on the campaign trail.
"Who would have thought this would have happened six months ago, a year ago?" he asked. "It is beyond anybody's wildest expectation. . . . I am indeed pleased at how this issue has ripened."
This month GOP rival Mike Huckabee unveiled a plan for tackling illegal immigration, including completing a fence along the border with Mexico by 2010, increasing the number of Border Patrol agents and giving all undocumented immigrants 120 days to register and leave the country.
Only two years ago, as governor of Arkansas, Huckabee supported legislation that would have offered in-state college tuition rates to some children of illegal immigrants in his home state.
Former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, another Republican contender, also has stiffened his stand on the issue in recent weeks.
Huckabee's recent rise in the polls was one of the reasons Tancredo said he was getting out of the race. His move came two weeks before the Iowa caucuses and on his 62nd birthday.
The last thing he wanted was for his continuing candidacy to "contribute to the nomination" of someone whose record on immigration was abysmal, he said, citing Huckabee and Arizona Sen. John McCain, a supporter of legislation that would have put some illegal immigrants on a path to citizenship.
"Gov. Romney, to his credit, . . . did something I don't think is politically correct in the state of Massachusetts -- stopped giving driver's licenses and in-state tuition to illegal aliens," Tancredo said, adding that Huckabee's action in Arkansas was a "totally different kind of situation."
The Huckabee campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
Romney and Tancredo met earlier Thursday, and their conversation convinced Tancredo to make an endorsement.
In a brief written statement, Romney thanked the departing candidate for his support: "While we don't agree on every issue, we agree on the need to keep America strong. I look forward to working with him and other Republicans to achieve that."