It was a difficult moment for Bruce Babbitt. Accompanied by his wife, Hattie, his two sons and his friend and political ally, Representative Morris Udall, the former governor of Arizona entered Washington’s National Press Club to bring his two-year presidential quest to an end. But Babbitt managed to retain his well-known sense of humor. “I’m reminded today of one of my favorite biblical quotations,” he said, “ ‘The truth shall set you free’—and, in this case, a lot sooner than I expected.”
Disappointing results in Iowa and New Hampshire and flagging fund-
raising efforts led both Babbitt and another former state governor, Delaware’s Pierre du Pont, to pull out of the 1988 race last Thursday. They joined Republican former secretary of state Alexander Haig—who retired following the Iowa vote—in the ranks of campaign dropouts.
The campaigns of the rightist Republican du Pont and the liberal Democrat Babbitt differed dramatically. The message that Babbitt delivered— and which he failed to sell—was one calling for new taxes to reduce the budget deficit, which totalled $201 billion last year. Babbitt’s plan, centred on a proposed five-per-cent national sales tax, won praise from many economists. But it lacked appeal with voters, particularly in New Hampshire, which has no state income tax or sales tax.
Announcing his retirement, Babbitt declined to endorse any other Democrat or to talk of future plans. In the short
term he will devote his attention to becoming a trustee of the national ski team. He has been skiing himself since he was 5.
Although an underdog from the outset, Babbitt was seen as a viable contender until the Iowa vote, when he drew only six per cent of the poll. But multimillionaire Republican du Pont was always considered a long shot by political observers. His platform included a number of plans that were widely perceived to be politically unworkable. Among them: allowing the wealthy to opt out of social security and set up their own plans, mandatory drug testing for high-school students and elimination of farm subsidies.
Other candidates are expected to drop out soon. Senator Paul Simon of Illinois, who finished third in New Hampshire just behind Gephardt, may be forced to
leave the race because of heavy debts. And most observers said that Representative Jack Kemp of New York would leave unless his fortunes improved in the primaries and caucuses scheduled for March 8. But the greatest uncertainty hung over former senator Gary Hart. An NBC News exit poll last week showed that 70 per cent of voting Democrats in New Hampshire were irritated by his decision to re-enter the campaign that he left last year following a scandal over his relationship with a Miami model. Hart has vowed to press on, even without staff or campaign money, but most observers said that lonely quest seemed likely to end soon. As Babbitt learned, the presidential selection process is unforgiving to those who do not show strong early results.
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