Tsongas leaves race, cites slow start in fund-raising for failure

March 20, 1992|By Jules Witcover | Jules Witcover,Staff Writer Staff writer John Fairhall contributed to this story from Hartford.

BOSTON -- In an emotional farewell to the 1992 Democratic presidential race, former Sen. Paul E. Tsongas of Massachusetts announced here yesterday that he would give up his campaign for lack of funds to fight the costly big-state television wars.

His departure leaves only former Gov. Edmund G. "Jerry" Brown of California to challenge Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton, now the presumptive nominee.

With the New York primary looming ahead after next Tuesday's contest in neighboring Connecticut, Mr. Tsongas said he feared his message, combining "economic growth with our traditional social compassion," would be defined by well-heeled Gov. Bill Clinton of Arkansas rather than by himself.

Mr. Tsongas, the winner of the Maryland primary, blamed his slow start in fund-raising for his failure.

"The campaign was lost in 1991 because of lack of resources," he said. "It was almost rescued in 1992 by the message." He said the campaign had raised $300,000 in January but it all went to pay debts.

He raised $1.4 million in February, when he won the Democratic primary in New Hampshire, he said, and another $1.4 million so far in March, but the resources were exhausted by heavy media expenses in large states like Texas, Illinois and Michigan.

"If money is the mother's milk of politics," he quipped, "our mothers didn't show up."

Reports filed with the Federal Election Commission show that Mr. Clinton raised more than twice as much money as Mr. Tsongas. As of Jan. 31, the most recent date for which figures are available, the Arkansas governor had collected more than $5 million, to about $1.9 million for Mr. Tsongas.

Mr. Clinton praised Mr. Tsongas for having entered the race, just over one year ago, at a time when President Bush's job approval ratings stood at 90 percent.

"He knew the country was going in the wrong direction, which is something that should endear him to the people of this country forever," Mr. Clinton told reporters in Little Rock, Ark.

Mr. Brown, campaigning in Hartford, Conn., said Mr. Tsongas' exit "sharpens the debate."

"It makes it very clear there are two choices between what I call Washington insider politics-as-usual and a re-dedicated, re-awakened Democratic party committed to the moral idea of social and economic justice," he said, renewing his attacks on Mr. Clinton.

At the end as at the beginning, Mr. Tsongas presented himself as unwaveringly rooted in his message of reviving the economy by finding more resources to restore the nation's manufacturing base as the best way to provide jobs.

He told campaign workers who crowded into his press conference, some shedding tears, that the values they espoused "will endure. We stood for something." And he clung to his belief that as the party's nominee he could have brought disaffected Republicans and independents into the Democratic fold in November.

Mr. Tsongas' withdrawal at times had the mood of a personal deliverance. In launching his candidacy a year ago, he had talked about his survival after contracting cancer, and about the sense of mission that survival gave him to leave a better America for his children than his generation had inherited.

Yesterday, he said he felt "deeply fulfilled. The obligation of my survival," he went on, "has been met."

As his wife, Niki, and three children stood behind him beaming but eyes glistening, Mr. Tsongas looked out at his supporters. "It's been a hell of a ride," he said.

Mr. Tsongas said he did well in the smaller states, but each time his message began closing the gap with Mr. Clinton in the large states, the Arkansas governor's television buys opened it up again. In New York, he said, the same thing was bound to happen, with Clinton ads overwhelming his own message.

Mr. Tsongas said he would "suspend" his campaign so that it would be possible for delegates elected in support of him to go to the Democratic National Convention in that capacity. But, like all other "pledged" Democratic delegates, they are free to support any candidate of their choosing at the convention.

In withdrawing, Mr. Tsongas said he was determined not to "play the role of spoiler" and in effect become "the agent of the re-election of George Bush" in the fall.

He said he will support the party's nominee, but he continued to be critical of Mr. Clinton's call for a middle-class tax cut. He said at one point that if the party didn't change its message it would lose in November.

Previously, Mr. Tsongas had said he would not accept any offer from Mr. Clinton to be his running mate because he would have to defend an economic approach that he firmly opposed.

Asked yesterday about the vice presidency, he would say only that he had promised his family and staff to make no statements about his future. But his criticisms of Mr. Clinton did not make him sound like a man fishing for the offer.

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