TAMPA, Florida (CNN) – The day after Fred Thompson announced he was dropping out of the presidential race, Mitt Romney told reporters he believed he had the most to gain from the former senator's exit.
For the Republican party to hold on to the White House, said Romney Wednesday, “I think you have to have social conservatives on board, as well as economic conservatives and foreign policy or national defense conservatives.
"I speak to those three groups. I think Fred Thompson did as well and in some respects his departure from the campaign I think inures to my benefit.”
He added, “I will miss Sen. Thompson's humor at our debates, he is a delightful character.... I appreciate his contributions to this campaign.” The two men often tangled on the campaign trail, with Romney often on the receiving end of attacks from Thompson.
The former Tennessee senator hasn’t said whether he plans to endorse any of his former opponents, including close friend John McCain, and it's unclear which candidate his former supporters might now embrace.
The most recent polls, which were conducted before Thompson ended his run, showed Romney neck-and-neck with McCain in Florida's GOP presidential race.
– CNN Political Producer Alexander Marquardt