“I think he punked out,” said Chase,a trade association fundraiser from Edgewater,Md.,who originally supported Rudy Giuliani. “Dropping out now – it doesn't do anyone any good.”
Romney told the audience that continuing to the Republican convention would divide the party and benefit the Democrats.
“If this were only about me,I'd go on,but it's never been only about me,” Romney said. “I entered this race because I love America,and because I love America,in this time of war,I feel I have to now stand aside.”
The announcement left Romney supporters and undecided voters searching for their next move.
“I'm flabbergasted,” said Chase,who plans to vote for the Republican candidate in November but hoped for more options in the state's primary on Tuesday. “He certainly wasn't my first choice,but he was my last choice.”
Romney wasn't Suzanne B. Curran's first choice either. Curran,a 68-year-old member of the Virginia Federation of Republican women,said Romney was her “fourth man” coming after Newt Gingrich,Duncan Hunter and Fred Thompson.
“He said he sees the United States as a ‘shining city on a hill.' There is nobody else doing that,” said Curran,of Mount Jackson,Va.
A political junkie since she fell for Barry Goldwater's charm in 1964,Curran said she is trying not to concentrate on the “what ifs” right now. Curran said she has to decide if she can put aside her beliefs simply for Republican Party loyalty.
“I'm not a fan of John McCain. I am not comfortable with how he is using his POW status,” Curran said. “It is not something he should be living off of.”
McCain,who became the presumptive Republican nominee,referred to his military service and experience as a prisoner of war during his speech,amid talk of defending freedom,protecting U.S. borders,decreasing taxes and making only those promises that could be kept.
The Arizona senator courted wary conservatives who hoped for a more conservative candidate or had concerns that he had forgotten his “political heritage” of the Ronald Reagan administration.
“I am as proud of that association today as I was then,” he said.
Lynda Payne,an artist from Pensacola,Fla.,and a former Arizona resident who declined to give her age,needed no convincing. She said unlike those who criticize McCain's lack of conservative ideology,she thinks he is a strong conservative.
Not all Republicans agree,so compromise is essential,Payne said. Her comments echoed a statement made by Reagan and quoted by McCain and others during the day that “a party cannot be all things to all people.”
“Of course I want everything to go my way,but what I really want is somebody to fight the good fight,” Payne said.
Vice President Dick Cheney spoke before the candidates. He praised government institutions for preventing another terrorist attack after Sept. 11 and President Bush for his actions in defense of the country.
“I've been proud to stand by him and by the decisions he's made,” Cheney said as the audience applauded. “And I would support those same – and would I support those same decisions again today? You're damn right I would.”
Speaking an hour after McCain,Republican candidate Ron Paul chastised the Bush administration for not better addressing Social Security problems and the nation's debt. He blasted the Arizona senator for wanting to continue the war in Iraq.
“McCain says we should stay there for 100 years if necessary. I am not willing to go to war unless it is necessary and dictated by the people,” Paul said.
Jacob Lyles,a 25-year-old investment banker from Arlington,Va.,said Paul is the only option left for true fiscal conservatives. He said he wasn't sure how Paul would stack up against McCain without Romney in the race,but he has high hopes for the Potomac Primary.
Maryland,Virginia and the District of Columbia purposely scheduled primary elections for the same day next week.
Others at the convention remained undecided at the end of the day or said they were waiting to hear from former Gov. Mike Huckabee,who is scheduled to speak Saturday.
Chase,the former Giuliani supporter,said as he was leaving that McCain's speech and those of his supporters offered reassurance that the senator could be a strong candidate,despite previous “stupid” decisions.
“I would've pulled a ballot for him holding my nose before,” Chase said. “Now I'm not going to be holding my nose.”