MILWAUKEE (AP) - Former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson said Sunday he is dropping out of the race for the Republican presidential nomination after finishing sixth in an Iowa straw poll.
"I have no regrets about running," he said in a statement released Sunday evening by his campaign.
"I felt my record as Governor of Wisconsin and Secretary of Health and Human Services gave me the experience I needed to serve as president, but I respect the decision of the voters. I am leaving the campaign trail today, but I will not leave the challenges of improving health care and welfare in America."
The statement was issued several hours after WITI-TV in Milwaukee reported that Thompson, 65, told one of its reporters he was withdrawing.
"I have very much enjoyed my years in public service and I am comforted by the fact that I think I made a difference for people during that time," Thompson said in the campaign announcement. "I hope to continue working to serve others over the next few years."
The statement said Thompson intends to take some time off before returning to the private sector and his nonprofit work.
He had said before the Iowa event that he would drop out of the race unless he finished first or second.
The statement didn't say whether he would endorse another candidate.
A veteran of four successful campaigns for governor of Wisconsin, had a good track record of winning elections.
He quit during his fourth term as governor to serve as President Bush's secretary of Health and Human Services from 2001 to the end of 2004.
He was first elected in 1966 at age 24 to the Wisconsin State Assembly, not long after he graduated from the University of Wisconsin. Twenty years later, he won his first term as governor.
As governor, he earned a national reputation for policies that moved many Wisconsin families from welfare to work, gave minority families more options on where they could send children to school by giving religious and private schools up to $5,000 per student and expanded health care to include thousands of the working poor who had not previously qualified for current government programs. He pushed for changes in welfare laws before President Clinton and Congress took up the issue on the national level.
Critics, however, charged the primary aim of Thompson's welfare reforms was merely to get people off Wisconsin's rolls and not necessarily to lift families out of poverty
Born in Elroy, Wis., Thompson boasted about his small-town background. His father ran a gas station and a country grocery store.
Thompson's time heading the Department of Health and Human Services was marked by anthrax attacks, a flu vaccine shortage and passage of the Medicare prescription law. Thompson was a key player in Bush's AIDS initiative, a commitment of $15 billion over five years for treatment and prevention of the disease that was rapidly spreading overseas. Thompson traveled frequently to Africa during his Cabinet service.
A fan of Milwaukee-based Harley-Davidson, Thompson has long taken an annual motorcycle trip with lawmakers, motorcycle enthusiasts and campaign supporters.
He touted his background as a Midwest governor and former HHS secretary as valuable credentials for a presidential candidate.