Marco Rubio suspended his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination on Tuesday night after failing to translate support from the party's establishment into victories in primary states.
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"While this may not have been the year for a hopeful and optimistic message about our future, I still remain hopeful and optimistic about America," he told supporters in his home state of Florida after his projected loss there to rival Donald Trump.
The decision also came after poor performances last week in nominating contests in Michigan and Mississippi where he attracted only single-digit support in the polls.
The 44-year-old first-term senator had been considered by many mainstream Republicans to be the last best option to defeat billionaire businessman Trump and U.S. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas for the party's nomination for the Nov. 8 election.
After former Republican Governor Jeb Bush quit the race, Rubio was able to attract some of his financial backers to his side.
But it took weeks for him to win a primary, notching wins in only Minnesota, Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C.
Allies and supporters had encouraged Rubio to get out of the race before the Florida voting after he consistently trailed in opinion polls, arguing that losing to Trump in the primary in his own state would hamper his future in politics.
Rubio has already said he will not run for re-election to his Senate seat. There has been speculation he could run for governor in 2018.
He finished third behind Cruz and Trump in the first presidential nominating contest in Iowa on Feb. 1 but emerged as the leading Republican mainstream contender, portraying himself as the party's best hope to recapture the White House.
Some expected him to finish second to Trump in the New Hampshire primary on Feb. 9. But after a battering in a Republican debate by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who mocked his propensity to repeat the same lines verbatim. Rubio ended up fourth in the state.
He later launched a series of personal attacks against Trump, a strategy that failed to slow the New York real estate mogul's momentum and which Rubio later said he regretted.
Rubio's departure leaves three candidates in the race - Trump, Cruz and Ohio Governor John Kasich. Establishment Republicans will now likely give Kasich a hard look, since most oppose Trump or Cruz being the nominee.
(By Ginger Gibson; Additional reporting by Alana Wise; Editing by Peter Cooney)