(CNN) - Mike Huckabee said Thursday he will continue his quest for the Republican nomination, and directly appealed for support from backers of Mitt Romney’s now suspended presidential bid.
"As a true authentic, consistent, conservative, I have a vision to bring hope, opportunity and prosperity to all Americans, and I'd like to ask for and welcome the support of those who had previously been committed to Mitt," Huckabee said in a statement.
- CNN Producer Alexander Mooney
(CNN) - Hillary Clinton raised over $7.5 million online since February 1, $6.4 million of which has come in the last 24-30 hours, her campaign chairman announced Thursday.
That number appears to fall short of what rival Barack Obama has raised in the same timeframe. Earlier Thursday, the Illinois senator's campaign announced it had raised $7.2 million in the first 36 hours after polls closed on Super Tuesday.
"The grassroots in the last 24 hours or since Super Tuesday have really stepped up," Clinton Campaign Chairman Terry McAuliffe said on a conference call with supporters. "It has been spectacular, it has been a huge outpouring of support."
He also said that since Super Tuesday, the campaign has seen 40,000 new online donors.
McAuliffe suggested the news of Clinton's decision to loan herself $5 million in January was a chief reason for the heightened fundraising haul, saying many supporters were unaware the campaign was in need of cash.
He also said all campaign staff was now being fully paid, following reports some senior staff members had voluntarily offered to forgo pay for a month.
The campaign will begin to air television ads in Washington State, Nebraska, Maine – states which are set to hold nominating contests this weekend. It will also begin airing ads in Ohio and Texas next week ahead of the March 4 primaries in those states.
- CNN Producer Alexander Mooney
McCain spoke before CPAC shortly after Romney announced he was suspending his bid. (Photo Credit: AP)
WASHINGTON (CNN) - John McCain – who took the stage at an annual conservative gathering Thursday as the likely Republican presidential nominee - got a decidedly mixed reception from the assembled activists.
As he took the stage, he was booed by many in the audience hearing him speak at the Conservative Political Action conference - despite, some attendees told CNN, instructions from event organizers to avoid those negative displays.
“Many of you have disagreed strongly with some positions I have taken in recent years. I understand that,” said McCain. “I might not agree with it, but I respect it for the principled position it is.”
Former GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney – who exited the race from the same stage just hours earlier - was able to win over many of these conservatives, and rack up several wins this year, by running as an alternative to John McCain.
The Arizona senator may have become the likely GOP nominee without, for the most part, winning majorities of either Republican or conservative voters in any primary contest – but winning over the activists in the audience is still vital to McCain’s presidential bid.
Continued ambivalence about or hostility to his presidential bid from the conservative base would make it difficult for him to win the general election. And those in attendance at CPAC tend to be the Republican footsoldiers who help drive election turnout.
WASHINGTON (CNN) - John McCain called Mitt Romney shortly after the former Massachusetts governor announced he was quitting his presidential bid, CNN has learned.
According to a senior McCain adviser, McCain told Romney that he "admired his speech today and that he was a tough competitor." McCain also told Romney he looks forward to sitting down with him at the earliest opportunity.
McCain did not ask Romney for his endorsement.
This McCain adviser also said the Arizona senator will soon call Mike Huckabee as well, but that "Huckabee will be making the decisions he will make."
We're also told McCain will reach out to Romney's supporters and ask for their votes when he speaks at the top of the hour at the Conservative Political Action Committee conference.
"John McCain is the presumptive nominee of the Republican party now," said the McCain adviser, "he will make that clear and also make clear he intends to unite the party."
- CNN's Dana Bash
Related: Watch McCain discuss Romney suspending his campaign and uniting the GOP
You have to hand it to the Republicans… they're efficient. With Mitt Romney out of the race, the Republicans have their man. John McCain will be the Republican candidate for president. Mike Huckabee and Ron Paul remain in the race in name only, and I would be very surprised if they're around a week from now.
So while the Republican field is pretty much set, the Democrats don't have a clue.
Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are virtually tied with a long fight ahead. And even with Ohio, Texas and Pennsylvania still out there, along with some smaller states, it's entirely possible the Democrats won't decide their nominee until their August convention.
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It’s always been fascinating to me how presidential candidates always profess to remain in the race until the very bitter end – until they decide to drop out. The latest example: Mitt Romney.
He had insisted passionately that there was no way he was dropping out – until he dropped out. The same had been the case with John Edwards, Rudy Giuliani, Fred Thompson and so many other candidates. I suppose that’s the nature of our political process.
Watching Romney utter the words at the Conservative Political Action Conference here in Washington was still so compelling. Some of my colleagues thought it was the best speech he had given since jumping into this race more than a year ago. The refrain I heard as we were watching was one I had heard before with other candidates: Why didn’t he show this spark and fire during the course of the campaign?
In 1996, shortly after he lost his presidential bid to President Bill Clinton, the Republican nominee, Bob Dole, went on the late night talk shows and displayed what had been missing for so long during the actual campaign – his very impressive sense of humor. It was a totally different Bob Dole after the loss than the American public had come to see during the race. He was much more likable and sympathetic.
Romney gave it his all. He worked tirelessly. He pumped in tens of millions of his own dollars. But in the end, it ended for him two days after Super Tuesday.
Still, politics is very strange. He is still relatively young – and no doubt some of his supporters are already thinking about 2012. We shall see.
- CNN's Wolf Blitzer
WASHINGTON (CNN) - Mitt Romney made the decision to end his presidential run Wednesday, as he wrote what turned into his valedictory speech, said campaign spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom.
As Romney "put pen to paper" writing his speech for the opening day of this year's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), it "evolved into a goodbye speech."Fehrnstrom said he had an idea the former Massachusetts governor's White House run was drawing to a close when Romney left the campaign headquarters Tuesday, saying he wanted what was best for the country.
Romney's senior staff was notified last night, and the rest of the staff was told the news right before Romney took the stage at CPAC on Thursday. Conservative talk show host Laura Ingraham, who introduced Romney, was told at the same time but didn't let on in her comments.
Romney had not spoken to Republican rivals John McCain or Mike Huckabee before his speech. His spokesman said he would talk to his former opponents - with whom he's clashed, often fiercely, throughout the primary season - "at some point."
Fehrnstrom said it's important that at this point the party come together, adding that the eventual nominee, who they presume will be McCain, will have Romney's support - though there's no talk of an endorsement timeline just yet.
–CNN Political Producer Alexander Marquardt
WASHINGTON (CNN) - Mitt Romney ended his presidential run Thursday, telling a conservative audience that continuing the race against rival John McCain would make it more likely Democrats would win the White House - and “in this time of war, I simply cannot let my campaign be a part of aiding a surrender to terror.”
Boos rose from the audience at the mention of McCain’s name – and shocked calls of “no!” as he made his announcement. One young man in a blue sports coat grasped his head in his hands, his mouth wide open as he watched Romney on-stage.
“Barack and Hillary have made their intentions clear regarding Iraq and the war on terror. They would retreat and declare defeat,” said Romney.
“And the consequence of that would be devastating. It would mean attacks on America, launched from safe havens that make Afghanistan under the Taliban look like child’s play. About this, I have no doubt.”
The former Massachusetts governor, who conceded the mathematical odds standing between him and the nomination, told activists gathered for the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington that “I must now stand aside, for our party and our country."
As his supporters filed out of the ballroom where Romney made the announcement, many carrying his campaign signs and merchandise, a moderator mentioned McCain’s upcoming CPAC speech – drawing an immediate and sustained chorus of boos from the crowd.
“I didn’t see this coming at all,” said Pennsylvania college student Andrew Coons, holding a Romney sign under his arm. “I was completely surprised. But this was an honorable thing for him to do.”
His friend Andrew Trout added that, despite hostility from many of conservative activists at CPAC this week, John McCain had a shot at winning their support – a great deal depended, he said, on the senator’s speech later Thursday afternoon. Romney represented conservative values better than anyone else in the race, he said, but ultimately “I vote the party, not the person.”
Related video: Romney: 'I hate to lose'
- CNN Associate Political Editor Rebecca Sinderbrand
WASHINGTON (CNN) - Senate Democrats have agreed to scale back their economic stimulus package in order to pick up Republican support for the measure which had stalled over GOP concerns the bill was too big and loaded with special interest provisions. Final congressional approval could come as early as Thursday officials said,clearing the way for rebate checks to be sent to millions of Americans this spring.
Democrats will drop demands for an extension of unemployment benefits, energy assistance for low-income households, and a series of tax breaks for energy providers. But they will include provisions supported by Republicans, including rebate checks for low-income Social Security recipients and disabled veterans and their widows as well as language designed to prevent illegal immigrants from getting rebates.
Those provisions will be added to the House-passed stimulus bill which, in addition to providing rebate checks, gives tax breaks to businesses designed to spur spending.
Precise details of the size of the rebate checks and the income caps were not immediately available.
–CNN's Ted Barrett and Brianna Keilar
WASHINGTON (CNN) – Barack Obama’s campaign manager, David Plouffe, engaged in some serious expectations-lowering heading into next Tuesday’s "Potomac Primary," made up of contests in Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia.
“You’re not going to see any of these states go 70-30 to anybody,” he said on a Thursday conference call with reporters.
Obama is expected to do well in those contests, all of which feature sizeable Obama-friendly demographics: African-American voters and well-educated, higher-income Democrats.
Still, several Hillary Clinton advisers told the Washington Post today that they will contest Virginia in particular, targeting women as well as working class white voters in the southwestern part of the state.
Plouffe said the Clinton campaign was “telegraphing” their Virginia strategy in the article and declared Virginia a “must-win” for Hillary Clinton, although many observers might say the same thing for Obama.
A campaign spreadsheet “inadvertently” leaked to the media yesterday showed the Obama campaign predicted a 50-48 victory over Clinton in the state on Tuesday.
Obama has several prominent endorsements in Virginia, including Gov. Tim Kaine and two Democratic congressmen. Virginia is also a purple-trending state – the kind of contest Obama hopes to win to prove he can re-shuffle the electoral map in November.
Plouffe said next Tuesday will be a “very big delegate day” (there are 168 pledged delegates at stake, divided proportionally) and that he expects Obama to add on to what he said was currently a 28-delegate lead over Clinton.
- CNN Political Producer Peter Hamby