Republican Rudy Giulianiand Democrat John Edwardsabandoned their failing U.S. presidential bids on Wednesday, narrowing the race in both parties to two main candidates ahead of next week's multi-state round of voting.
Giuliani, the one-time front-runner who finished a distant third in Florida's Republican primary on Tuesday, traveled to California to endorse Arizona Sen. John McCain in a hard-fought Republican battle against former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
"Today I am officially announcing my withdrawal as a candidate for president of the United States," Giuliani said at the Ronald Reagan presidential library in Simi Valley before a televised Republican presidential debate. "John McCain is the most qualified candidate to be the next commander-in-chief of the United States."
Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with his longtime friend, McCain said all Americans recalled the former New York mayor's leadership after the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001 and predicted Giuliani would be his "strong right arm" in the campaign.
The candidates are in the early stages of a state-by-state battle to pick Republican and Democratic presidential nominees. The winners from the two parties will face off in the Nov. 4 election to succeed President George W. Bush.
The withdrawal of Edwards means Democrats will field a history-making ticket.
Regardless of whether Illinois Sen. Barack Obama or former first lady Hillary Clinton wins the nomination, it will be the first time a black or a woman has headed a major U.S. party's presidential slate.
Edwards, a former North Carolina senator, traveled to New Orleans, where he launched his campaign more than a year ago, to make the surprise announcement that he was pulling out.
He had vowed last week to stay in the race until Tuesday, when almost half the U.S. states vote to pick candidates for the November election.
"It is time for me to step aside so that history can blaze its path," Edwards, who campaigned as the champion of low- and middle-income families, told supporters in a neighborhood devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
"We do not know who will take the final steps to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, but what we do know is that our Democratic Party will make history ... and with our convictions and a little backbone we will take back the White House in November."
Edwards did not immediately endorse either of his rivals.
The departure of Edwards left Clinton, a New York senator, and Obama to what looks likely to be a long, bruising fight for the Democratic nomination.
Both surveyed the new landscape and began angling for an edge. They echoed Edwards' theme of ending poverty, with Obama casting himself as the best one to take on McCain, the clear Republican front-runner after his Florida win on Tuesday.
Giuliani's withdrawal leaves McCain facing a strong challenge from Romney.
Former Arkansas Gov.Mike Huckabeeis still formally in the Republican race but his lack of campaign money and limited appeal beyond Christian conservatives has left him trailing far behind.
Giuliani did little campaigning in the early voting states, focusing his efforts on producing a strong showing in Florida, the fourth most-populous state with a large number of retirees from the Northeast. But he finished a disappointing third place, barely above Huckabee.
McCain and Romney split the previous four Republican nominating contests. McCain won in South Carolina and New Hampshire and Romney carried Michigan and Nevada, the latter a state scarcely contested by other Republicans. Huckabee won the kick-off contest in Iowa.
Clinton on Tuesday won a Florida Democratic race that featured no active campaigning because of a dispute between the national and state parties. She and Obama split the first four nominating contests, with Clinton taking New Hampshire and Nevada and Obama winning Iowa and South Carolina.