SACRAMENTO, Calif., Sept. 29 -- Plagued by waning financial support and little enthusiasm from voters, Gov. Pete Wilson dropped out of the 1996 presidential race Friday, saying to continue the campaign would be 'unfair' to his supporters. The Republican governor told more than 400 cheering supporters in Sacramento that it would be fruitless to continue his campaign. 'As much as your hearts and minds tell me to fight on, my conscience tells me that to do so would be unfair,' Wilson said. 'It would be unfair to all those across this land whose high hopes simply are not -- and will not -- be matched by the necessary campaign funds to take this message to the people who need to hear it.' Wilson became the first casualty of the Republican bid to unseat President Clinton just one month after formally launching his campaign. Despite his best efforts, Wilson was unable to attract significant financial support for his campaign and failed to galvanize voters, even in his home state. Wilson, a moderate who favored abortion rights and a former U.S. senator, sought to position himself as an alternative to front-runner Senate GOP leader Bob Dole of Kansas. As Dole solidified his backing across the nation, Wilson was unable to attract enough money to press on. Dole campaign spokesman Scott Reed praised Wilson and said the governor had managed to convey his message. 'Pete Wilson took a hard-nosed, disciplined run at Bob Dole,' Reed said in a statement from Washington, D.C..
'No candidate was more focused or more determined than Wilson, yet Dole was not dented.' In Washington, Clinton reacted with surprise to the announcement and said he understood the difficulty in trying to run for president while governing a state. 'It's a difficult road and I respect the judgment that he would make, or anybody would make under these circumstances since I've been through it,' Clinton said. 'I hope we will continue to be able to work together on some of our common problems.' Following the 30-minute speech, Wilson said it was 'too early' to throw his support behind any other GOP candidate. While Wilson said the financial realities had forced him out, the governor noted that he had managed to put California's issues on the national agenda. 'No one is going to be elected president who does not understand that and who is not determined to respond to California's issues,' Wilson said. Wilson vowed to continue fighting for the state as governor and left open the possibility he would run for president again. 'There is sill one hell of a lot of fight left in this old Marine,' Wilson said. After pulling off one of the most stunning comebacks in California last November to win a second term as governor, Wilson was often mentioned as presidential material. Although Wilson vowed to finish his second term in California, the lure of the national spotlight prompted him to enter the presidential race. Wilson touted himself as the Republican President Clinton feared most because he has used galvanizing issues such as crime, illegal immigration and affirmative action to attract voters. Even with such issues, Wilson failed to garner significant support from voters and fund-raisers. In recent weeks, Wilson top campaign officials had begun to work without a salary because of financial shortcomings and other staff said they would work without pay. Campaign manager George Gorton, who spearheaded Wilson's successful gubernatorial campaign last year, quit after failing to resolve ongoing differences with campaign Chairman Craig Fuller. Wilson also closed his operations in Iowa, site of the first serious GOP political test, to focus on New Hampshire. A newspaper poll released this week in New Hampshire found that Wilson would draw support from just 4 percent of the state voters, lagging far behind Dole, conservative commentator Patrick Buchanan and Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas. Even in California, residents showed little support for a favorite son candidacy. Poll after poll found Wilson would lose the GOP nomination to Dole and a head-to-head match-up with Clinton.