Republican Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin abruptly pulled out of the 2016 U.S. presidential race on Monday, doomed by a lightning-quick collapse from serious contender to a candidate struggling to raise money and his profile.
Walker, reading a statement in the Wisconsin capital of Madison, decried the negative tone of the Republican campaign in remarks seemingly directed at New York billionaire Donald Trump.
He called on some of his rivals for the Republican nomination to join him in exiting the race to give voters a chance to rally around a front-runner that can win the November 2016 presidential election.
"I encourage other Republican presidential candidates to consider doing the same so that the voters can focus on a limited number of candidates who can offer a positive, conservative alternative to the current front-runner," Walker said. "This is fundamentally important to the future of our party, and, more important, the future of the country."
Wisconsin's Fox 6 News provided a video clip of Walker's announcement.
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Walker harked back to the late Republican President Ronald Reagan as a model for the party because "he was an optimist."
"Sadly the debate taking place in the Republican Party today is not focused on that optimistic view of America. Instead it has drifted into personal attacks," he said.
"In the end I believe that the voters want to be for something and not against someone. Instead of talking about how bad things are, we want to hear how they can make them better for everyone. We need to get back to the basics of our party," he said.
Walker's fall was dramatic and swift. He electrified conservatives in Iowa in January by promoting his record in Wisconsin of having beaten back public unions and survived a recall election.
When he officially announced his campaign in early July, he was among the leaders for the Republican nomination. But the 47-year-old governor quickly struggled on the campaign trail despite a strong conservative record and a warm personal story as a Harley-Davidson motorcycle aficionado.
Walker's lack of experience on the national stage was apparent. He gave shifting answers to questions about illegal immigration and once suggested a wall between the United States and close ally Canada might be in order, in an apparent effort to double down on rivals' calls for a wall on the Mexican border.
He did not do much to reassure supporters with lackluster performances in the first two Republican presidential debates.
Walker's struggle for traction, combined with the rise of Trump, took its toll. A CNN/ORC poll released on Sunday gave him less than 1 percent support among Republican voters. In a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll of the Republican field, he received 3 percent of support.
In an initial sign of trouble, Walker last week canceled events in California and Michigan to concentrate on Iowa, the key early voting state that shares a border with Wisconsin.
Ed Rollins, former political director for President Ronald Reagan, blamed Walker's decline on poor debate performances.
"The stars in our party have been the governors," Rollins said Monday on "Your World with Neil Cavuto."
But governors have been losing out this cycle to Trump, who has dominated both debates, Rollins said.
"It's become a Trump show, and sort of a salesmanship-type program as opposed to standing up there and saying here's what I've done in my state," Rollins said.
A large part of the electorate now is saying that anyone who has been part of government – including governors – is part of the problem, Rollins said.
Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry was the first candidate to suspend his campaign. Rollins predicted Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, all of whom have been struggling in the polls, also are facing trouble getting donors.
Speaking by telephone on Fox News' "Your World with Neil Cavuto," GOP donor Anthony Scaramucci said he talked to Walker earlier Monday.
"I'm saddened by the decision, but I recognize why he did it and I respect him a great deal," Scaramucci said. "I think the governor as a team Republican is making a great decision on behalf of the party. He's a young man, he's going to live to fight another day."
In his blog today on Newsmax.com, conservative commentator and frequent Newsmax TV contributor Dick Morris predicted Walker's withdrawal, calling him this year's Tim Pawlenty, the former Minnesota governor.
"Both Tim Pawlenty, in 2011, and Scott Walker, in 2015, began their campaigns with high expectations based on their records as governor," Morris wrote. "But, before the actual election year dawned, they both found themselves on the outside of the nominating process looking in. Pawlenty had to drop out and Walker will likely have to do so soon."
The signs of his precipitous fall were all too vivid Sunday afternoon inside Serena's Coffee Café in Amana, Iowa, where about 40 stoic supporters showed up for his first retail campaign event in the state since Wednesday's debate.
Gone were most of the network television cameras that had followed Walker much of the summer. Just one network was on hand, along with one reporter-photographer from a nearby station in Cedar Rapids. A second event at a Pizza Ranch in Vinton, Iowa, brought out another small crowd, along with one local TV camera.
Walker lingered at both events, shaking virtually every hand. He'd woken Sunday morning to news that he'd fallen below 1 percent in the most recent national CNN poll, a new all-time low for his candidacy that could further rattle donors.
In the interview, Walker said his campaign is paying its bills and not deficit spending. "We're on pace to do things right," he said. "We're not going to have a 50-state strategy right now."
It was just two months ago that Walker made his first trip into Iowa as declared official presidential candidate, amid soaring poll numbers and expectations for him in the state.
On his latest Iowa swing, the fallen Iowa front-runner showed an increased willingness to draw contrasts with other candidates, including Trump, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson and former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina.
Interviews with potential supporters at Sunday's events showed Walker's collapse in the polls is weighing on their minds, even though most said they think there's time for him to recover.
Joel McElroy, a factory worker from Belle Plaine, Iowa, said he'd likely support Walker, if he remains a candidate. "It all depends on who is still around when caucus time comes around," he said. "The field will eventually narrow down."
Newsmax writer Greg Richter and Bloomberg News contributed to this report.
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