Alexander drops GOP presidential bid

Top Quayle supporters jump ship to McCain camp

August 17, 1999|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON -- Lamar Alexander abandoned his dogged 6 1/2-year quest for the White House yesterday, while top supporters of former Vice President Dan Quayle bolted from his campaign. Both candidates are suffering from an early Republican stampede to Gov. George W. Bush of Texas that has helped cut short the traditional nominating process.

Complaining that he had not had an adequate chance to compete, Alexander said, "I campaigned on the idea that we ought to have a contest." He told supporters at the state Capitol in Nashville, where he formally announced his candidacy only six months ago, "My heart tells me to keep going and so do a lot of telephone calls this morning, but there's really no realistic way to do that."

The reshuffling of the Republican field comes after a straw poll of nearly 25,000 people on Saturday in Ames, Iowa, in which Bush led the field, followed by Steve Forbes and Elizabeth Hanford Dole. The last straw for Alexander came, literally, when he placed a disappointing sixth. Quayle finished eighth.

Alexander, a thoughtful and low-key former governor of Tennessee and former secretary of education, devoted more time and energy than his opponents and had assembled an impressive organization in Iowa; he has not held any other full-time job since he left Washington in 1993.

But while Alexander mounted a respectable run for president in 1996, this time he never caught on in the early polls or with contributors.

His cash-poor campaign, which collected about $2.5 million, could not compete with Bush and his treasury of more than $37 million. In his remarks yesterday, Alexander did not endorse any of his opponents.

Though Quayle fared even worse on Saturday, he insisted that he would stay in the race. But several of his leading supporters in South Carolina -- a critical early primary state -- deserted him yesterday for Sen. John McCain of Arizona, whose campaign was energetically trying to pick off Quayle's backers around the country.

Jim Merrill, the director of Quayle's campaign in the state, and four other top organizers, including Edward T. McMullen Jr., abruptly submitted their resignations.

"Unfortunately, I have tried to reach your office this morning but have been unable to personally contact you," McMullen wrote in a letter that was faxed to Quayle. "Your loss in Iowa and the resulting calls from your supporters forced me to conclude that South Carolina's Quayle 2000 effort is now irreparably weakened." He scribbled on the bottom: "Your friendship and support over the years means a great deal -- I hope that will continue!"

Rep. Matt Salmon of Arizona also endorsed McCain; Salmon had announced his support of Quayle in February.

Jonathan Baron, a spokesman for Quayle, responded to the defections by saying, "The rats may be jumping off the ship but the ship's not sinking."

Yet speculation that Quayle will quit has been so rampant that Kyle McSlarrow, his national chairman, put out a statement asserting, "Dan Quayle is completely committed to this campaign." He framed the defections as part of a reorganization in which the campaign would concentrate on the vital states of Iowa and New Hampshire.

The McCain campaign may be trying so assiduously to show movement to blunt the impact of Dole's solid third-place finish in the straw poll. She and McCain, who did not compete in Iowa, are battling for many of the same voters.

"I got a call from the McCain campaign last night -- they're recruiting," said Fran Wendelboe, a state representative in New Hampshire who supports Quayle. "But we're going to go on. Someone's got to emerge; I don't think those conservatives are going to go with G. W. Bush."

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