SEDONA, Ariz. -- John McCain suspended his presidential campaign Thursday, conceding the Republican presidential nomination to George W. Bush. The voters have spoken, he said, "and I respect their decision."
"I am no longer an active candidate for my party's nomination for president," McCain said.He addressed reporters shortly after Bill Bradley quit the Democratic presidential campaign, setting the stage for a fall showdown between Bush and Vice President Al Gore.
While Bradley made a clean break, McCain opted to put his campaign on hold in order to leave his options open. Aides said the tactic gives him leverage against Bush as he urges the GOP nominee to adopt his political reform agenda.
"I am suspending my campaign so that Cindy and I can take some time to reflect on our recent experiences and determine how we
can best continue to serve the country and help bring about the changes to the practices and institution of our great democracy that are the purpose of our campaign," he said.
McCain rose from second-tier status to become a major threat to Bush and his allies in the GOP establishment. He dropped out after winning seven states and 231 delegates. Bush has 617 of the 1,034 delegates needed for the nomination.
"A majority of Republican voters made clear that their preference for president is Governor Bush," McCain said. "I respect their decision."
McCain said he was not endorsing Bush.
After absorbing a Super Tuesday primary drubbing, McCain huddled with senior strategists and major financial backers at his mountain cabin here to assess the situation.
It didn't take long for strategists to conclude that soldiering on made little sense, and within a few hours Wednesday the campaign schedule was scrapped.
Bradley also bowed out after failing to win a single state in Tuesday's voting. "It certainly shows that when you do battle with entrenched power that it's very difficult and, indeed, I think that's what the story of the campaign was," Bradley said.
The former New Jersey senator telephoned the vice president to pledge support. But at a withdrawal news conference, he said he will not release the delegates he did win, saying they had earned a voice at the Democratic National Convention. He had 412 -- more than 1,000 behind Gore.
He also rejected the idea of running for vice president on a Gore ticket. "I've said no, I will not be a candidate for vice president," he said.
"We have been defeated, but the cause for which I ran has not been defeated," Bradley told supporters and reporters. He said he will speak for his brand of new politics, including broadened health care insurance, gun controls and campaign finance reform.
Twice he was asked whether he would run for president again; twice he avoided answering and said he was going on vacation.
Most of McCain's senior aides have been urging him to withdraw, saying Bush has built an almost impossible lead in the delegate count. Any doubt of that was erased in this week's round of primaries, aides argued.
Some have urged McCain to launch a third-party bid, pointing to his strength with independents in the primary season. Putting his campaign on hold would keep that option in play, but McCain has consistently ruled that out, arguing he's a "loyal Reagan Republican," and an aide said "there's no change in that position."
McCain's campaign added a spark to a GOP contest that most had expected Bush to dominate, and McCain rocked the campaign with upset wins in New Hampshire and Michigan. Interest in the GOP fight was high and voter turnout in some early contests soared.