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Candidate Etiquette: How to Bow Out Gracefully

Chin up, ego beaten down, any bitterness squashed deep inside, a flash of humor helps: As presidential primary candidates fall away, one by one, there's an etiquette and timing to bowing out gracefully.

It's not always observed, of course.

"I'm not a beaten man, I'm an angry and defiant man," Gary Hart (search) declared when a dalliance with Donna Rice (search) forced him from the 1988 Democratic race.

After losing the '68 nomination, anti-Vietnam War candidate Eugene McCarthy (search) snubbed Democratic nominee Hubert Humphrey (search). His grudging endorsement a week before Election Day was too little, too late — and the party blamed him for Humphrey's loss to Richard Nixon (search).

Most candidates stick to the script, however. This time around, Democrats Bob Graham, Carol Moseley Braun, Dick Gephardt, Joe Lieberman and Wesley Clark have uttered some version of the "my campaign is over but the fight goes on" speech.

Howard Dean and John Edwards may be next, if John Kerry continues his winning streak. Dean said he would reassess his campaign after Tuesday's voting in Wisconsin, where Kerry again led in the polls. Edwards insisted he would press on.

March 2, with contests in 10 states, is widely considered the do-or-die date.

"Edwards is gambling that some unforeseen thing might surface and Kerry might stumble badly before Super Tuesday," said Kenneth Warren, a political science professor at Saint Louis University.

Knowing when to fold can be tough. The general election creates a mathematical loser, with no choice but to concede once the votes are counted (or recounted). The primaries follow a fuzzier math.

"You come to trust your instincts to tell you it's over," Bob Dole said as he closed his second presidential campaign. He finally won the Republican nomination in 1996.

For those with the drive and ambition to run for president, admitting defeat isn't easy. "My heart hurt," Dan Quayle said of his decision to quit the 2000 GOP race.

The most common campaign killer can strike even before voting starts.

"Candidates simply run out of money," said Anthony Corrado, professor of government at Colby College.

Graham, a Florida senator, dropped out of the race in October because he couldn't raise $15 million to $20 million to campaign.

Kerry ran perilously short of money in December, and mortgaged his family's Boston home to help finance a roughly $6 million loan and turn around his campaign.

Once a front-runner emerges, other candidates typically struggle to find donors.

"You can't run on air," Elizabeth Dole said after being overwhelmed by George W. Bush's fund-raising in 2000.

Money aside, rejection in the early states is hard to ignore.

"When the voter speaks, I listen, especially when the voter is saying someone else's name," Republican Phil Gramm quipped after finishing fifth in Iowa in '96.

Abandoning his floundering GOP bid in 2000, Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch recalled a New Hampshire woman who asked to have her picture taken with him. When he asked if she wanted the photo to send to her children, she replied, "No, I'm just trying to finish off the roll."

Even a slim following is enough to keep some "message candidates," such as Al Sharpton and Dennis Kucinich, running their shoestring campaigns.

But formerly serious contenders who lag in electoral votes may face pressure from within their own party to give up. Democratic leaders have been outspoken this year in calling for an early wrap-up to unify the party against President Bush.

At some point the only thing left is to make a good final impression, whether as groundwork for the next race or for the history books.

"It's important to do it gracefully, even though you might feel very bitter and resentful," Warren said.

Perhaps the nation's most famous — and succinct — exit line came in '68, when Vietnam protests and surprisingly strong primary challenges drove out a sitting president.

At the end of a televised address, Lyndon Johnson startled the nation by declaring: "I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your president."