LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Wesley Clark (search) dropped out of the race for the White House on Wednesday, a retired four-star general unable to command significant support as a first-time presidential candidate.
"This is the end of the campaign for the presidency," Clark told supporters in his home state of Arkansas.
"They're good men, they're good Democrats and they're good patriots," said Clark, who decided to abandon his quest after finishing third behind Kerry and Edwards in Democratic primaries Tuesday in Virginia and Tennessee. "Our country is well-served" by them, he added.
He also used his campaign farewell to criticize President Bush, accusing him of pursuing a "fatally flawed" foreign policy.
"I am not anti-war, but I am pro-national security," added the former general, a critic of the war in Iraq.
Clark, a 59-year-old career military man, burst onto the campaign last fall, supplanting his more experienced and better-known rivals at the top of the polls and demonstrating significant fund-raising ability.
The commanding general in NATO's war in Kosovo (search) in 1999, Clark anchored his political appearances with a pledge of "a higher standard of leadership" and spoke to campaign audiences often of service, duty and honor.
But his political inexperience showed — he articulated diametrically opposed positions on the war with Iraq within days of announcing his candidacy, for example, and was constantly refining his position on abortion.
Strategically, his first key decision was to bypass the kickoff Iowa caucuses in favor of the New Hampshire primary eight days later. Kerry's surprise caucus triumph trumped Clark's plan, and the former general faded to a distant third.
Clark's only triumph in 14 caucuses and primaries came in Oklahoma last week, and Kerry's twin victories in Virginia and Tennessee sealed his decision to withdraw.
Clark wrestled with the decision to end his campaign as election returns rolled in Tuesday night, with advisers urging him to quit and his family pushing him to continue. Before deciding to exit, he thanked several hundred cheering backers at a downtown hotel.
"We'll leave Tennessee even more full of hope and commitment than when we began this journey five months ago," he said Tuesday. "We may have lost this battle today, but I tell you what, we're not to lose the battle for America's future."
Aides said Clark would remain active in the campaign by stumping for Democrats in the South and other swing states and serving as an adviser on national security issues.
In appealing to voters, Clark relied almost entirely on his 34 years in military service. Supporters touted other qualities — his Southern roots and his status as a Washington outsider — that they contended made Clark the candidate most likely to defeat Bush. Plus, he provided another forceful voice in condemning the war in Iraq, which he frequently called unnecessary, reckless and wrong.
Clark had enormous fund-raising success for a latecomer, raising nearly $15 million in 2003. He started January with at least $10 million left and the prospect of raising millions more.