ARLINGTON, Va. – As strains of Frank Sinatra's "My Way" played, Sen. Joe Lieberman (search) ended a presidential bid that he ran on his own terms but that never found a foothold with the voters.
He was the candidate with the wrong message at the wrong time, supporters said. And his more moderate views didn't connect with the left-of-center Democrats desperate for a fiery crusader to beat Republican George W. Bush.
"I offered a mainstream voice and I still believe that it is the right choice and winning choice for our party and our country," the Connecticut senator told about 200 close friends, family and supporters at an Arlington hotel Tuesday night. "The campaign is over now, our journey and our purpose must go on."
The mainstream voice nearly won him the vice presidency in 2000, as Al Gore's running mate. But four years later, Lieberman's support for the Iraq war and his more measured, low-key style were not what Democrats wanted.
"Primary voters are more liberal — and that was always an obstacle he had to overcome," said Marty Dunleavy, a longtime Connecticut friend and campaign adviser. "But as much as he stressed the progressive issues he has been a leader on, he couldn't get past the war."
Rep. Calvin Dooley (search), D-Calif., said Lieberman's failed campaign was more a commentary on the primary voters than the candidate.
"They are angry at Bush and they wanted someone less judicious than Joe," he said.
In fact, voters leaving the polls Tuesday said the ability to defeat Bush was most important to them, and Kerry was often their choice.
Lieberman got the nod from conservatives and moderates, and about half his vote tended to come from those who approved of the war. War supporters, however, were a distinct minority, with seven in 10 voters across three states saying they disapproved of Bush's decision to go to war in Iraq.
Still, Lieberman had no apologies and no regrets as he bowed out of the race. In a private meeting with his senior campaign staff just before his public announcement, Lieberman said he would have done nothing differently.
"It was a very sad moment, but there was a lot of pride," said senior campaign adviser Dan Gerstein. "He felt like he ran the campaign he wanted. He ran a principled campaign and stuck to his guns."
But those strong principles were the root of one of his early troubles. Grateful to Gore for selecting him as running mate, Lieberman pledged not to seek the presidency if Gore wanted to run.
While hailed as a classy move, the decision put Lieberman months behind other candidates who were raising money and hiring top staff. And while the 2000 race gave him high name recognition around the country, it also carried the baggage of a bitter loss that Democrats were determined not to relive.
Then early this year, he decided to skip the Iowa caucuses to concentrate on New Hampshire and Tuesday's seven primaries and caucuses. But as John Kerry's campaign took off, Lieberman finished fifth in New Hampshire.
The death knell came Tuesday night, when — in his must-win state of Delaware — he finished a distant second, with 11 percent of the vote. Kerry received 50 percent.
The voters had spoken, Lieberman said. But he quickly added that being surrounded by family — including his 89-year-old mother Marcia — made him feel like a winner.
A three-term senator, Lieberman, 61, was already looking ahead.
"A campaign ends but life goes on," said Lieberman.