WASHINGTON – Joe Lieberman (search) dropped out of the Democratic presidential race Tuesday after landing a distant second place in Delaware, a must-win state for the Connecticut senator, and barely registering in the other six states with primaries and caucuses.
"I have decided tonight to end my quest for the presidency of the United States of America. Am I disappointed? Naturally. But am I proud of what I stood for in this campaign? You betcha," Lieberman told supporters in Arlington, Va.
"I offer a mainstream voice, and I still believe that is the winning voice for our party and our country," he said.
Lieberman congratulated John Kerry (search) and John Edwards (search) for their victories and pledged "to support our party's nominee and do whatever I can to deny George Bush a second term and give the American people a fresh start."
Though Lieberman had considerable name recognition following his 2000 Democratic vice-presidential bid, in which he and Al Gore won the popular vote, he was never able to generate the enthusiasm from voters that Howard Dean (search) earned last year, and Kerry managed in the first month of 2004.
He also was unable to overcome a campaign crippled by a slow start, tepid fund-raising and a risky strategy. Lieberman skipped Iowa and finished fifth in New Hampshire.
Lieberman's fifth-place finish in New Hampshire fueled speculation, even among his closest supporters, that he was about to pull out of the race. Instead, he forged ahead, hoping to pull out a win in Delaware with strong showings in Arizona and Oklahoma, where he had spent considerable time while the other candidates courted candidates in the first primary and caucuses states.
Late returns showed Lieberman at 11 percent in Delaware, 7 percent in Oklahoma, 6 percent in Arizona, 4 percent in Missouri, 3 percent in New Mexico, 2 percent in South Carolina, and 1 percent in North Dakota.
Lieberman had tried to fashion a campaign like the one that propelled Arizona Sen. John McCain to a competitive spot in the 2000 Republican primaries. McCain was able to capture a large independent vote. However, Lieberman never was able to solidify support from independent and uncommitted voters who only narrowly improved his standings.
Lieberman was the most centrist candidate in the race and the most supportive of the war in Iraq. He long argued that only a candidate seen as tough on defense could compete against Bush, and he often attacked Kerry for taking vague and shifting positions. He called his criticism of Howard Dean a "battle for the heart and soul of the party."
Lieberman aides now say with Dean effectively out of the race it will be up to Kerry, Edwards and Clark to make sure the party is not branded as weak on security.
Lieberman's trials were evident from the very beginning when he pledged not to run for president if his former running mate, Gore, sought the nomination. Gore decided not to run on Dec. 15, 2002, but by then Lieberman was months behind other candidates who were raising money and hiring top staff.
Lieberman was then struck again when Gore decided on Dec. 9, 2003, to back Dean. At the time, Lieberman spokesman Jano Cabrera said Gore did not tell the Connecticut senator about the endorsement, which Lieberman had sought.
Supporters said Lieberman's support for the war in Iraq also cost him votes, as did a low-key style that never captured the attention of Democrats hungry for a fighter to take on Bush.
Lieberman, 62, made national news when he chastised Bill Clinton in 1998 for his relationship with intern Monica Lewinsky. An Orthodox Jew, Lieberman was selected as Gore's running mate on Aug. 7, 2000, in part because of his moral credibility.
The Democrats' strong showing in Florida was credited to his presence on the ticket, but it wasn't enough to deliver the presidency. Although Gore and Lieberman won the popular vote by about half a million ballots, they conceded the election after a tumultuous 36-day recount in Florida and a Supreme Court ruling ending that process.
Fox News' Peter Brownfeld and the Associated Press contributed to this report.