WASHINGTON (AFP) — Maverick Republican White House candidate Ron Paul, a rival to his party's presumptive nominee John McCain, has announced that he is dropping out of the US presidential race.
Paul, a Texas congressman who rallied thousands of Americans around a message of minimal government regulation, a return to a non-interventionist foreign policy and the elimination of income taxes, announced the decision in a letter to supporters posted on his website.
"I have decided to end my campaign for the presidency of the United States," wrote Paul, a 72-year-old libertarian-leaning former obstetrician who surprised experts with his showing in some early Republican primaries in the 2008 race.
The announcement was a formality, as McCain claimed the Republican mantle in March. Paul finished second in a handful of early races and won few overall delegates, but his campaign thrived on the Internet, where he raised tens of millions of dollars, and he developed a huge grassroots following.
"I am deeply moved and honored by your hard work and sacrifice on behalf of our cause," Paul said, adding that "it is time now to take the energy this campaign has awakened and channel it into long-term effects to take back our country."
Paul spoke Thursday night in Houston at the Texas state Republican Party convention, where he told supporters that while he was bowing out of the race, he would continue to spread his message.
"What I see happening now is hardly the end of anything," he said as he announced the launch of a "Campaign of Liberty" to help elect those who share his views.
He also said he was expecting many of his supporters to join him at a mini-convention he is hosting in early September in Minneapolis to coincide with the Republican national convention in St. Paul.
In his Internet message, Paul said: "We have some exciting plans to move the revolution forward that will come together in the next several months."
"We don't have to live in the kind of America the two major parties have in store for us."
Paul was the Libertarian Party nominee for president in 1988, when he placed a distant third.
On Thursday there was praise from the Libertarian Party.
"Paul fought an uphill battle for liberty every day in his presidential campaign against all of the big-government juggernauts of the Republican Party," spokesperson Andrew Davis said.
"Ron Paul worked to empower the people, not the government. That is a rare trait in today's political world."
Paul clashed with several of McCain's positions, in particular by calling for the immediate withdrawal of US soldiers deployed in Iraq but also those stationed in South Korea, Japan and Europe.
Paul wants the United States to quit the United Nations, NATO and the World Trade Organization. He has denounced the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico, and favors abolishing the Federal Reserve.
He has so far refused to endorse the presumptive Republican nominee McCain, and commentators have speculated that Paul might use his war chest to launch an independent White House bid.
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