Less than a week before the New Hampshire primary, former Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. on Friday bowed out of the Republican race for President and threw his support to Kansas Sen. Bob Dole, who is vying with Vice President George Bush for the lead here.
"In my judgment, Sen. Robert Dole is the candidate best able to lead our country into the 1990s. . . . From my point of view, Bob Dole is head and shoulders above George Bush," Haig said, moments before Dole arrived and joined him on the podium.
Dole's advisers, as well as state party officials, said Haig's base of support, estimated at about 2%, was quite small to be valuable to Dole, but Haig said his base of support "is a lot broader and a lot deeper than the polls show" and that his endorsement could benefit Dole.
"Why did I do this?" Haig asked. "As painful as it was for me personally (to withdraw), I thought if I could get my supporters to throw their support behind Bob Dole, it would make a difference."
When asked if he would be seeking a job in a Dole Administration, Haig replied: "None whatsoever. . . . I am not seeking any public office." Dole added that there was no "quid pro quo."
Dole praised Haig as "an American patriot," and with Haig beside him, he said: "I appreciate this very much and I won't let you down. This is a close race in New Hampshire, and I am looking forward to working with Al Haig." Dole said Haig would campaign on his behalf.
Dole said he did not believe he would be hurt by the high negative ratings that Haig has received in some polls, perhaps as a result of Haig's outspoken criticism of the Reagan Administration, which is popular in New Hampshire.
With Haig gone, the Republican field narrows to five. Most polls show that Dole, after trouncing Bush in the Iowa caucuses last Monday, has cut deeply into the 20-point lead Bush enjoyed here for several months.
Former religious broadcaster Pat Robertson, who came in second in Iowa, is vying with New York Rep. Jack Kemp for third place. Former Delaware Gov. Pierre S. (Pete) du Pont IV trails. Robertson, Kemp and Du Pont are fighting it out for the conservative vote here.
Haig, 62, served as secretary of state under President Reagan in 1981 and 1982, but he recently has criticized the Administration for its handling of the Iran-Contra scandal and for exacerbating the nation's budget deficit.
Throughout his campaign, which Haig admitted has never caught fire, Haig has been a nettle in the vice president's side, challenging Bush on a nationally televised candidates' debate in December to clarify his role in the Iran-Contra affair. Was Bush in the "cockpit," taking part in key decisions or in the back of the plane, doing nothing, Haig wanted to know.
Haig, whose criticism of Bush has been the most memorable aspect of his campaign, fired more broadsides at the vice president Friday. He offered several reasons why he thought Dole would be a better President than Bush. In doing so, Haig echoed a number of catch phrases about leadership, toughness and empathy for the common man that have become staples of the Dole campaign.
"Having made a difference, having the toughness to make tough decisions, rather than just being there," said Haig in response to a question about the difference between Dole and Bush.
Haig said that Dole, a member of Congress for 27 years, would be better able to restore harmony between Congress and the White House. He praised Dole's plan to attack the budget deficit. Dole advocates a one-year partial spending freeze on many programs.
But Haig said it was in foreign affairs--a field in which Bush has had more experience--that Dole's "toughness" would most distinguish him from the vice president.
Is Bush electable, Haig was asked.
"Frankly, I don't think so," he replied.
As Dole joined him, Haig turned to him and joked: "I've done about all the damage I want to do."
Tom Rath, one of Dole's senior advisers and a former New Hampshire attorney general, said he thought Haig's endorsement would be valuable because, he said, so many people respect his views on national defense issues, even though they did not support him for President.
Ironically, Haig differed with Dole, as well as with Bush, over the treaty on nuclear arms reduction recently signed by Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev. While Bush and Dole supported the treaty, Haig has been one of its most articulate critics, saying it would leave the Soviets with a dangerous advantage in conventional weapons in Eastern Europe.
In bowing out of the race, Haig gave up a campaign that never seemed to find itself.
A conservative on defense issues, the former NATO supreme commander and chief of staff in the Richard M. Nixon Administration endorsed a potpourri of positions on other issues such as health care, Social Security and AIDS, and was never able to build a constituency.
Nor did Haig's style on the campaign trail always help him. Coarse, wisecracking, weary and slightly oddball, his manner sometimes verged on self-caricature. "Once a general, always a general. I am what I am. Popeye, the sailor man," he liked to say.
He referred to himself Friday as "the darkest of the dark horses," thanked his supporters, and said that "only in America could a non-politician have achieved this much."