Mitt Romney announced he is suspending his presidential bid, all but annointing John McCain as the Republican nominee.
In a speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, Romney said he didn't want a Democrat to win the White House.
"If I fight on in my campaign, all the way to the convention, I would forestall the launch of a national campaign and frankly I would be making it more likely that Senator Clinton or Obama would win. Frankly, in this time of war, I simply cannot let my campaign, be a part of aiding a surrender to terror," he said.
"This is not an easy decision for me. I hate to lose. My family, my friends and our supporters... many of you right here in this room have given a great deal to get me where I have a shot at becoming President. If this were only about me, I'd go on. But I entered this race because I love America, and because I love America, in this time of war, I feel I must now stand aside, for our party and for our country," he said as the crowd exclaimed, "No, no."
"I will continue to stand for conservative principles; I will fight alongside you for all the things we believe in. And one of those things is that we cannot allow the next President of the United States to retreat in the face of evil extremism!"
He spoke with his wife Ann by his side. He was introduced to raucous applause and chants of "Mitt, Mitt" by radio talk show host Laura Ingraham, who supported him, as the conservatives' conservative.
Romney said he rose from single digits in polls to four million voters and 11 states that have supported him.
The former Massachusetts governor was far behind in delegates after McCain swept winner-take-all states in the Northeast and also won California and other big states on Super Tuesday. But even as he huddled Wednesday with key advisers at his Boston campaign headquarters, a spokesman insisted that Romney was in the race for the long haul.
By suspending his campaign, he technically keeps his delegates in case something bizarre happens and he could restart his bid. Romney had 293 delegates, compared to 703 for McCain, of the 1,191 needed for the nomination.
Romney sought to become the conservative alternative to McCain and courted the activists at the conference, but Mike Huckabee competed for some of the same voters.
While Huckabee has not officially dropped out, he is even further behind in delegates and made clear this week that he would support McCain if he doesn't get the nomination.
Still, the Huckabee campaign said the former Arkansas governor would push on, according to the Associated Press.
"We're still in the race and we're still competing for delegates, and today demonstrates how long and windy to the White House this is," said Chip Saltsman, Huckabee's campaign manager.