(CBS/AP) Former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson quit the Republican presidential race on Tuesday, after a string of poor finishes in early primary and caucus states.
"Today, I have withdrawn my candidacy for president of the United States. I hope that my country and my party have benefited from our having made this effort," Thompson said in a statement.
Thompson's fate was sealed last Saturday in the South Carolina primary, when he finished third in a state that he had said he needed to win.
Speculation began swirling around Thompson as a potential candidate last June and, after months of build up, he formally launched his candidacy to much fanfare after Labor Day. But the former Tennessee senator never clicked on the campaign trail and his message of tough and straight talk about the problems facing the nation failed to consolidate the conservative voters he sought to attract.
"Thompson never appeared to have the fire in the belly for an all-out presidential campaign," said CBSNews.com senior political editor Vaughn Ververs. "He entered the race at a very late date and never did the groundwork needed to make up ground, especially in key states like Iowa and South Carolina. Except for a few lively debate moments, Thompson just didn't connect to primary voters who are used to being courted much harder for their votes."
In the statement, Thompson did not say whether he would endorse any of his former rivals. He was one of a handful of members of Congress who supported Arizona Sen. John McCain in 2000 in his unsuccessful race against George W. Bush for the party nomination.
The actor-politician best known as the gruff district attorney on NBC's "Law & Order" placed third in Iowa and South Carolina, two states seemingly in line with his right-leaning pitch and laid-back style, and fared even worse in the four other states that have held contests thus far. Money already tight, he ran out of it altogether as the losses piled up.
Thompson departs the most wide open Republican race in half a century; three candidates each having won in the six states that have voted.
In Florida, McCain, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani are battling for the lead ahead of its Jan. 29 primary, while former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee evaluates his next steps amid money troubles of his own.
Thompson's withdrawal capped a turbulent 10 months that saw him go from hot to not in short order.
He began toying with a presidential run last March, emboldened by a fluid Republican nomination fight and a restive conservative GOP base. He also was charmed by resounding calls for him to get into the race - and his meteoric springtime rise to the top of national and state polls.
Fans trying to draft him as a candidate launched an online effort, seizing on his conservative Senate voting record as well as his lumbering 6-foot-5 frame and deep baritone as they argued that he was right out of central casting. They painted him as the second coming of Ronald Reagan and the would-be savior of a Republican Party demoralized after electoral losses in 2006 at all levels of government.
Expectations rose higher - and his standing in polls started to fall as he failed to meet them.
Thompson played coy about his intentions all the while taking steps to prepare for a formal entrance into the race with a flourish. He cut ties with NBC, visited early voting states and delivered high-profile speeches. And, he started raising money and set up a preliminary campaign organization.
He delayed his expected summertime entrance in the race until fall, perhaps missing an opening created by McCain's near campaign implosion.
As he prepared to officially join the race, Thompson was plagued by lackluster fundraising; high-profile staff departures, including some prompted by the deep involvement in the campaign of his wife, Jeri, and less-than-stellar performances on the stump. Thompson also endured repeated questions about his career as a lobbyist and his thin Senate record.
Thompson formally announced his bid in early September, but hit a rocky patch from the get-go.
His easygoing style and reputation for laziness translated into a light campaign schedule that raised questions about whether he wanted to be president badly enough to fight for it. A spate of inartful answers to campaign-trail questions - on everything from the Terri Schiavo case to Osama bin Laden - didn't help matters.
Though his star had faded, Thompson earned positive reviews for a series of debate performances last fall and earned an endorsement by the National Right to Life Committee. He made a strong effort in Iowa as the year ended with a bus tour of the lead-off caucus state.
But he finished third and went South Carolina, where he hoped to turn around his fortunes - but a win, like the nomination, did not materialize.
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