Wilson quits White House race after short lacklustre campaign

TIM CORNWELL

Washington

The 10-man Republican field for the presidential nomination suffered its first casualty yesterday. Governor Pete Wilson, of California, was expected to announce last night that he was dropping out of the race, only a month after he officially kicked off his campaign.

Mr Wilson, 62, a moderate by current party standards, had hoped to imitate Ronald Reagan in using California as the springboard to the White House. But for much of this year an aide had to deliver speeches for a voiceless candidate recovering from a throat ailment.

It became a symbol of a lack-lustre campaign plagued by staff in-fighting and struggling to raise the $20m (pounds 12.6m) that political analysts estimate will be needed by the successful candidate in the closely stacked Republican primaries.

Mr Wilson was calling his political backers across the country yesterday to tell them he planned to withdraw. Unofficially his campaign has been under way for more than six months, but he was near the back of the field in the two eastern states that traditionally kick off the race, Iowa and New Hampshire.

His status as governor of the most populous state made Mr Wilson a serious candidate who could capitalise on the anti-Washington mood. But while he insisted "I'm the candidate Bill Clinton fears the most", he has suffered from a colourless image.

In California, he won a second term as governor last year in a come-from- behind victory over a media darling, the Democrat Kathleen Brown, when he turned the campaign round on promises to stem a flood of illegal immigrants. But the state's voters reacted badly when he broke a promise to serve out his full second term.

Mr Wilson was pro-choice on abortion and favoured gun control, neither of which endeared him to the conservatives who dominate Republican Party ranks. But he staked out tough positions on immigration, spending cuts and crime. Only this week he signed two measures to expand the death penalty.

He also played to the so-called "angry white male" vote by promising to repeal "affirmative action" to advance ethnic minorities in education and jobs. Under pressure from Mr Wilson, the University of California recently abolished programmes to boost the number of black and Hispanic students.

He used the Statue of Liberty in New York as a backdrop for his announcement speech last month but spoke as the messenger of a colder, hard-eyed reception for the huddled masses who these days arrive mainly via the land border with Mexico.

Critics, even within the Republican Party, suggested Mr Wilson was playing to racially divisive issues. Others accused him of hypocrisy, noting he supported affirmative action for many years as a Californian politician.

Pete Wilson is likely to be only the first of several weaker candidates who leave the race early. The field ranges from the millionaire publisher, Steve Forbes, to the black former Reagan administration official and pundit, Alan Keyes. Senator Bob Dole remains the clear front-runner, trailed by two conservatives, Texas senator Phil Gramm and the writer and pundit Pat Buchanan.

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