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Babbitt Quits Democratic Race With AM-Political Rdp, Bjt

February 18, 1988

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Former Arizona Gov. Bruce Babbitt on Thursday became the first Democrat to quit the presidential race in 1988, declaring an end to an underdog candidacy that he called ″the greatest joy of my entire public life.″

Babbitt told a roomful of family, supporters and reporters that he is abandoning the race in the wake of dismal showings in Iowa and New Hampshire but he is not abandoning his cause - ″an America that comes to grips with its future.″

Babbitt said he will not yet endorse any of the six remaining Democratic contenders. ″They are all first-rate people and I could support any one of them,″ he said.

Babbitt, whose campaign was centered around economic themes including a frank call for a national sales tax, said the Democrats must ″give our country a compelling reason to elect us to power.″

″I’m going to wait and watch and do everything I can to insure the success of our party,″ he said.

Babbitt finished fifth in Iowa last week and sixth in New Hampshire on Tuesday.

He seemed relaxed and even upbeat as he explained that probably ″a thousand things″ went wrong for his campaign.

Ultimately, he likened his race to a stranger riding into town for a Fourth of July party and telling everyone that the party is over and it’s time to rebuild the town.

″It’s asking an awful lot in the course of a campaign before the American people, to say, consider both a new messenger and a challenging and different message,″ he said.

Throughout his news conference, Babbitt displayed the self-deprecating wit he has carried through the campaign that he launched last March 10.

Babbitt joked that his appearance on NBC’s comedy show, ″Saturday Night Live,″ was ″undoubtedly the high point of this campaign.″

Asked if he was worried about the nation’s future if taxes are not increased to reduce the huge budget deficit, he quipped, ″Look, I’m not going to slash my throat if we don’t raise taxes tomorrow.″

And he said one friend told him, ″You fought a good fight, you were in it right up to the beginning.″

″I don’t know why we fared no better. I’ll leave that for others to ponder,″ he said.

As his wife Hattie and two young sons looked on, Babbitt said, ″This campaign has been the hardest work and greatest joy of my entire public life. I’ll not forget any of it.″

Hinting at a possible future candidacy, he added: ″I can’t say I’d rush to do it again, but I might.″

Indeed, die-hard Babbitt admirers at his campaign office in Concord, N.H., answered the phone ″Babbitt in ’92.″

He recalled the occasions during his campaign when he asked people to stand up if they supported his call for candor, especially his plan to tackle the federal deficit with a national sales tax.

″I’ll never forget the people in audience after audience who stood up out of their chair to join me in a demonstration of belief for the politics of truth,″ he said.

Asked if he would consider the vice-presidential spot, he quipped, ″My advice to the nominee would be ... ’You probably ought to select a vice- presidential candidate from a state with more than seven electoral votes.‴

He added that if reincarnated he would try to be from the neighboring delegate-rich state of Texas.

Referring to the generally favorable press coverage he received, Babbitt jokingly accused reporters of ″a deliberate conspiracy to destroy my candidacy by making me into kind of a house pet ... to destroy my credibility with the American people.″

Babbitt was the subject of many favorable articles, often focusing on the substance of his economic proposals, his willingness to risk the unpopular tax-increase message, and his generally unpretentious style.

In New Hampshire, Babbitt had hoped to get at least 10 percent but he garnered only 5 percent, ahead of only former Sen. Gary Hart.

Hart urged him to stay in the contest when the two spoke Tuesday night, and told him, ″You’ve got something to say. You’re a courageous guy,″ Babbitt related.

Babbitt’s staff said the campaign has about $150,000 to $200,000 in bills to pay off.

His announcement Thursday concluded a campaign that used often non- traditiona l attention-getters - his bicycle ride across Iowa, an ascent of Mount Washington in New Hampshire, and a rugged cross-country ski tour in northern Arizona.

He said his immediate plans include a trip to Mexico with his family and doing fix-up work around his Arizona home.

Asked how he will now earn a living, Babbitt smiled broadly and cocked his head toward his attorney wife, saying, ″Hattie?″

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