September 30, 1995 in Nation/World

Wilson Quits Presidential Race Plagued By Voice Problems, Falling Polls, California Governor Frees Up State’s 54 Electoral Votes

Martin F. Nolan Boston Globe
 

Gov. Pete Wilson withdrew from the 1996 presidential race Friday, burdened by a confused and cash-poor campaign, a creaking voice and home-state woes that converted California into a liability instead of an asset.

His departure, a month after he declared his candidacy at the Statue of Liberty, opened a golden door to other candidates pursuing California’s 54 electoral votes, including President Clinton, whose aggressive campaigning here helped drive Wilson from the race.

Wilson’s fellow Republicans all claimed they would benefit, including the favorite, Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas, who recalled their friendship during their eight years together in the Senate. Wilson’s candidacy, like that of other Republicans, was premised on Dole’s demise as a candidate.

“I blame no one but myself,” Wilson told friends and supporters at a Sacramento restaurant in a farewell performance showing flashes of wit and personality the 62-year-old governor previously had concealed.

In hoping to follow two previous Californians to the White House, Wilson more often evoked the grim demeanor of Richard Nixon than the cheerfulness of Ronald Reagan. After his surgery in April, he told supporters Friday, he consulted a throat specialist in New York who prescribed two months of silence, and added with a Reaganesque shrug, “Hell, how did I know he was a delegate pledged to Bob Dole?”

When Wilson said Friday that he was “a long time voiceless,” his description went beyond his throat problems. Unlike Nixon and Reagan - who ran for president several times before succeeding - Wilson was a rookie in the game.

His campaign message appeared muddled, and he did not adapt his big-state techniques to the retail demands of small states like New Hampshire. Last week in the Granite State, he was still giving set speeches, trying to make news instead of making friends.

Bill Carrick, a Democratic strategist who managed Dianne Feinstein’s losing effort against Wilson in 1990, praised the governor’s tenacity, but said a “built-up resentment from the voters” exacerbated Wilson’s main problem, a broken pledge not to run for president.

Wilson’s poll numbers in California began falling, Carrick said, “because they didn’t like him much to begin with and they didn’t like him any better just because they re-elected him. And it hurt his major message, that he’s the guy Bill Clinton is most afraid of. Live by the polls, die by the polls.”

Clinton showed no fear of Wilson, arriving in California almost as often as the governor left. Carrying a bag of federal goodies, Clinton played Santa Claus to Wilson’s Sacramento Scrooge, further depressing the latter’s poll numbers. In California, polls often account for the entirety of a day’s or week’s political news.

Wilson, despite his recent crusades against illegal immigration and affirmative action, was more popular among California moderates and even liberals than he was among conservative Republicans.

Texas Sen. Phil Gramm has more supporters among GOP legislators than Wilson did.

MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: 1996 GOP PRESIDENTIAL LINEUP Who’s in, who’s out, who’s still thinking about the 1996 Republican presidential race:

THEY’RE IN: Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole. Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas. Former education secretary and Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander. Sen. Dick Lugar of Indiana. Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania. Conservative commentator Pat Buchanan. Rep. Bob Dornan of California. Former Reagan administration official Alan Keyes. Publishing magnate Steve Forbes.

HE’S OUT: California Gov. Pete Wilson. Quit the race on Friday, citing trouble raising campaign cash.

QUESTION MARKS: Retired Gen. Colin Powell. Promises a decision by November. Has left open possibility of running as a Republican or independent. House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Promises a decision by November, says he’ll be less likely to run if Powell does.

THEY WON’T RUN: Former Vice President Dan Quayle. Former defense secretary Dick Cheney. Former housing secretary Jack Kemp. Former education secretary William Bennett Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson Massachusetts Gov. William Weld Former treasury secretary and secretary of state James A. Baker III. Associated Press

This sidebar appeared with the story: 1996 GOP PRESIDENTIAL LINEUP Who’s in, who’s out, who’s still thinking about the 1996 Republican presidential race:

THEY’RE IN: Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole. Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas. Former education secretary and Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander. Sen. Dick Lugar of Indiana. Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania. Conservative commentator Pat Buchanan. Rep. Bob Dornan of California. Former Reagan administration official Alan Keyes. Publishing magnate Steve Forbes.

HE’S OUT: California Gov. Pete Wilson. Quit the race on Friday, citing trouble raising campaign cash.

QUESTION MARKS: Retired Gen. Colin Powell. Promises a decision by November. Has left open possibility of running as a Republican or independent. House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Promises a decision by November, says he’ll be less likely to run if Powell does.

THEY WON’T RUN: Former Vice President Dan Quayle. Former defense secretary Dick Cheney. Former housing secretary Jack Kemp. Former education secretary William Bennett Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson Massachusetts Gov. William Weld Former treasury secretary and secretary of state James A. Baker III. Associated Press


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