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HATCH ENDS CANDIDACY, BACKS BUSH FOR PRESIDENT

Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah today ended his long-shot bid for the Republican presidential nomination and endorsed Texas Gov. George W. Bush as "the one who can unite the party and bring back the White House to us."

Hatch's decision to withdraw came after he finished last in the GOP's Iowa caucuses Monday night with only 1 percent of the vote, finishing behind even Sen. John McCain, who was not competing there.

"Now that I am out, I think Gov. Bush is the only person who can get things done, cut marginal tax rates so that we can keep this economy going, improve our schools," Hatch said.

"I think he can reach across partisan lines," he added.

Bush, campaigning in New Hampshire, said, "Sen. Hatch took a long look at all of us running, and I am most appreciative."

Hatch, in announcing the end of his campaign, said at a news conference, "It is now clear that there will not be time to build sufficient support for my candidacy."

Hatch, 65, had hoped that his nearly quarter-century in the Senate would vault him to the top of the crowded GOP field. But he got into the race far later than his rivals -- last summer -- and few voters seemed interested.

He acknowledged today that the odds were "extremely long" from the start and joked that his standing in the polls rose as other candidates dropped out.

"I kind of liked the trend," he said, but "unfortunately, the other candidates are not doing their part to keep this trend going."

He said all the other Republicans in the hunt were good men.

"I think each of them would be a dramatic improvement over the current occupant of the White House," he said.

His withdrawal means that only five GOP candidates will participate in tonight's nationally televised debate in Manchester, N.H. CNN will televise the debate from 7 to 8:30 p.m. and a debate for the two Democratic presidential candidates from 9 to 10 p.m.

Meanwhile, on the Democratic side, Bill Bradley launched a corrective campaign strategy in New Hampshire after his drubbing in the Iowa caucuses, while Vice President Gore didn't even wait for breakfast to embark on what felt like a victory lap in the snow-covered state.

With six days to go before the primary, polls show the Democratic race neck and neck in New Hampshire.

Bradley, who lost by 28 percentage points in Monday's caucuses, took a new tack in his difficult argument that the country can do even better economically.

Bradley now plans to aggressively engage Gore, while trying not to undermine his own lofty image. His aides conceded that the right balance between positive and negative messages has eluded Bradley, who has lurched from taking Gore's assaults with little or no response to launching sporadic attacks that seemed misplaced in his high-minded campaign.

Gore braved a fierce New Hampshire snowstorm to deliver coffee and doughnuts to road crews and surprise college students at a political rally.

"I got one hour of poor-quality sleep -- not real sleep," he said during an impromptu stop at a Dunkin Donuts in Manchester. "I've got a lot of adrenaline from the victory last night."

Bush, fresh from victory in Iowa, acknowledged that he faces a greater challenge in Tuesday's New Hampshire primary but asserted that a victory here would seriously damage McCain.

Bush credited McCain with running an excellent campaign in New Hampshire and said he could survive a loss to McCain on Tuesday. "I'm in it for the long run," he said in an afternoon interview. "I will be the last man standing."

McCain, who skipped the Iowa caucuses, said he was ready for "the main event" in New Hampshire, doubted that Iowa's results would affect voters here and expressed confidence about his chances.

"A lot of time in New Hampshire, they don't pay a lot of attention to the Iowa caucuses," he said. "It was a low voter turnout. We are going to have a very big turnout here in New Hampshire."

Bush and McCain, who are locked in a competitive contest here, began the final week of campaigning in the state battling a winter snowstorm and a new wild card in Tuesday's in magazine publisher Steve Forbes, who hopes his second-place finish in Iowa will give him a boost here. Forbes on Tuesday cast himself as the "independent outsider" in the GOP field.

Most polls in New Hampshire give McCain an edge over Bush, though the margins vary from 5 percentage points to 12 percentage points. Forbes trails both by a wide margin.

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