Forbes Decides to End Campaign, Endorse Dole


Publishing magnate Steve Forbes decided Wednesday to withdraw from the Republican presidential race, ending a candidacy that began as a crusade for the flat tax but ultimately exposed the idea to intense attack from other Republicans.

Even before reaching his decision, Forbes indicated that he would continue fighting for the flat tax. But he plans to endorse the party’s front-runner, Sen. Bob Dole, when he formally announces his withdrawal at a 10 a.m. PST news conference today and does not plan to make his support contingent on Dole’s acceptance of the tax plan, aides said. In fact, Dole has already rejected key elements of the Forbes plan.

Forbes’ exit from the race now leaves Dole with only one major opponent, conservative commentator Patrick J. Buchanan.


Aides to Dole said that he did not speak directly with Forbes and that the campaign made no promises in return for the publisher’s decision to withdraw from the field.

Forbes’ departure from the campaign trail is a reluctant one--he spent at least $25 million of his own money on his sometimes extravagant bid for the White House. But with only 76 delegate votes to Dole’s 741, political reality began setting in for Forbes after he took a pounding in seven primaries Tuesday.

Up to the end, Forbes explored whether he could make a “credible” showing in any of the four Midwestern states holding primaries next Tuesday. Ultimately, however, after an afternoon meeting with top advisors, the answer was no.

“He’s getting out of the presidential race. He’s made the decision,” Forbes’ campaign manager, William Dal Col, said in a curt announcement.

Forbes has increasingly been confronted with advice that his continued candidacy could hurt the cause he has championed since joining the race last September--the 17% flat income tax, which he maintains will spur economic growth.

On Wednesday, the candidate spoke of his presidential bid in the past tense, and he spent most of the day checking the pulse of his flagging effort.

Among those giving him counsel was Jack Kemp, the former Bush administration Cabinet secretary, who said that as late as Tuesday evening the campaign’s advisors had debated a series of options for continuing--including a challenge to Dole and Buchanan to participate in a series of Lincoln-Douglas-style debates.

Unlike other candidates who have preceded him out the door of the campaign, the question over whether to drop out is not about money but about generating support for his ideas, particularly his tax plan, Forbes said.

Initially, the magazine publisher attracted little attention after he announced his candidacy last September. But he emerged as a major force in the race with an unprecedented multimillion-dollar advertising campaign that plastered his image--and just as important, a belligerent montage of attacks on Dole--across television screens in Iowa, New Hampshire, Arizona and other early primary states.

Early in 1996, Forbes surged to the top of the polls in New Hampshire; Time and Newsweek magazines even placed him on the cover in the same week.

But Forbes fell as fast as he rose. His rivals intensified their fire on the flat tax--charging that it would increase the federal budget deficit, hurt housing values and soak the middle class to benefit the rich.

At the same time, Forbes’ nuanced, even oblique, position on abortion came under fire from religious conservatives.

After running second to Dole in Iowa polls through most of January, Forbes finished a weak fourth. That showing undermined his strength in New Hampshire, where he again finished a weak fourth. Forbes recovered to win primaries in Delaware and Arizona, but could not sustain his momentum.

“One of the things you learn in public life, which is always true, is you don’t master everything,” Forbes said Wednesday. “Events can sometimes master you.”

Forbes’ long-term impact on the party is uncertain. While he disagreed with Buchanan on most issues, Forbes shared with the pugnacious conservative columnist the conviction that the party had to widen its agenda beyond balancing the budget. The focus that Forbes and Buchanan jointly placed on the economic pressure facing the middle class has already prompted Dole to more directly address the issue.

But if anything, Forbes’ campaign may have pushed Dole and other party leaders away from the pure version of the flat tax the publisher espoused. In their efforts to halt Forbes’ momentum, the other Republicans zeroed in on the idea’s political vulnerabilities, leaving wounds so gaping that even many conservative analysts doubt that the notion can be resurrected.

Times staff writer Maria LaGanga in Los Angeles contributed to this story.