(Bloomberg) -- Former Vice President Mike Pence suspended his presidential campaign Saturday, ending his quest to unseat former running mate Donald Trump as the Republican standard-bearer and return the party to a more traditional brand of conservatism.
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“We always knew this would be an uphill battle, but I have no regrets,” Pence said at a Republican Jewish Coalition conference in Las Vegas.
Pence, 64, had urged the party to reject what he called “the siren song of populism unmoored to conservative principles” — a clear reference to the former president’s more isolationist and protectionist policies that Pence said would abrogate US leadership around the world.
But Pence’s campaign struggled amid a crowded field of candidates, lackluster fundraising and low polling despite his high name recognition. He was running in sixth place in Iowa and eighth in New Hampshire, according to the RealClearPolitics average of state Republican nomination polls. Pence sits at 3.5% support in the latest average of national polls.
In the third quarter, he spent nearly as much as he brought in and contributed $150,000 of his own money to the campaign, a sign that he was struggling to raise funds.
“So after much prayer and deliberation I have decided to suspend my campaign for president,” he told the conference. “The only thing that was harder than coming up short was to never try at all.”
Pence’s unexpectedly quick departure from the race — before the third GOP debate in Miami next month — could help to consolidate support among other non-Trump candidates.
While Pence didn’t immediately endorse another candidate, polls that ask voters for their second-choice candidate suggest that Senator Tim Scott and former US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley would most benefit from Pence’s departure.
A former talk show host, congressman and Indiana governor, Pence lent conservative credibility to Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and served as a cheerleader for Trump’s policies during four years as vice president.
But their political alliance — and their friendship — ended on Jan. 6, 2021, when Trump urged a violent mob to march on the US Capitol in an attempt to prevent Pence from presiding over the certification of Democrat Joe Biden as president. That pressure campaign is now the subject of indictments in Washington and Atlanta, Georgia, two of the four criminal cases Trump is defending himself on.
Most Republicans took Trump’s side in the split, and high numbers of GOP voters have an unfavorable opinion of the former vice president. An Iowa State University/Civiqs poll this month found 18% of Republicans opposed Pence’s nomination, second only to former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, compared to 10% opposing Trump.
‘Not My Time’
Christie was the first candidate to congratulate Pence on his campaign. “He deserves our thanks as Americans for putting his oath of office and the Constitution of the United States before personal and political pressure,” Christie said on X, the social media site. “Thank you for your service.”
Pence also attacked Trump for moderating his position on abortion, saying Republicans should fight for a national abortion ban.
By saying he is suspending his presidential bid rather than ending it, Pence can continue to raise money to pay off campaign debts. He could also return to the race in the future, although there are few historical precedents for such a move.
Unlike other candidates who have positioned themselves to possibly serve as vice president or in other roles in a future Republican administration, Pence has already held the number-two job.
“The Bible tells us there’s a time for every purpose. Traveling over the country for the past six months, I came here today to say it’s become clear to me that this is not my time,” Pence told the Las Vegas gathering, to gasps and cheers from the crowd.
“I am leaving this campaign, but let me promise you, I will never leave the fight for conservative values,” he said.
(Updates with Pence’s polling, fundraising and more quotes from speech starting in fourth paragraph.)
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