Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana announced on Saturday he will not seek the presidency in 2008, saying he believes the odds of a successful run were too great to overcome.

"At the end of the day, I concluded that due to circumstances beyond our control the odds were longer than I felt I could responsibly pursue," Bayh said in a statement. "This path — and these long odds — would have required me to be essentially absent from the Senate for the next year instead of working to help the people of my state and the nation."

The announcement comes just two weeks after Bayh, in an appearance on a Sunday talk show, said he would take a first step toward a presidential campaign by forming an exploratory committee. His decision to step aside narrows a crowded field of possible candidates that, for now, is dominated by Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois.

Just last weekend, Bayh traveled to New Hampshire, the early presidential primary state, but his appearance drew little notice as Obama delivered two speeches to sold-out crowds and attracted hordes of reporters. Bayh joins former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner as well-known Democrats who already have decide against a 2008 run.

"The odds were always going to be very long for a relatively unknown candidate like myself, a little bit like David and Goliath," Bayh said in the statement. He added that beyond the question of "whether there were too many Goliaths or whether I’m just not the right David," his chances were slim.

Bayh, 50, left open the possibility of a run at some point, saying, "There may be no campaign in the near future, but there is much work to be done."

Bayh is a Democrat with a record of political success in a Republican-leaning state. He had been pointing toward a White House campaign for months, and had $10.5 million in his Senate campaign bank account as of Sept. 30. That money could have shifted to his exploratory committee.

The senator recently hired his first paid organizer for Iowa, the state whose caucuses commence the competition in the campaign.

Among the announced Democratic candidates are Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack and Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich. But Clinton and Obama loom large in a potential field that also could include 2004 vice presidential nominee John Edwards; New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson; Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts; Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware; and Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut. The Republican lineup is equally crowded: Sen. John McCain of Arizona, former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani and Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney are some of the contenders.

As a member of the Senate Intelligence and Armed Services committees, Bayh was one of the first Democrats to support military action in Iraq. But in December 2005, he changed his position, saying he would not have supported legislation authorizing the invasion if the facts the Bush administration used to support the move had been presented to him accurately.

Bayh has charted a centrist’s course throughout his political career, including two terms as governor and eight years in the Senate. He also has served as chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council, a prominent voice for moderation within the party, and has helped establish the centrist New Democrat Coalition.

Elected governor in 1988, he was the first Democrat in 20 years to hold that office and at age 33 was the youngest state chief executive in the United States.

Bayh was often referred to as a "Republicrat" who courted the middle. He never raised taxes and he left office with a humming state economy, low unemployment and a record budget surplus.

His approval rating was an astonishing 79 percent in a state that has not voted for a Democratic presidential nominee since Lyndon Johnson’s 1964 landslide.

Bayh drew national notice, too, as his tenure neared an end. Bayh was tapped to give the keynote address at the 1996 Democratic National Convention.

He was elected to the Senate two years later.

In recent years, Bayh voted against confirming John Roberts and Samuel Alito for the Supreme Court; opposed legislation to open a portion of an Arctic wildlife refuge to oil drilling; and supported a comprehensive immigration bill that included a path to citizenship for millions of men and women in the country illegally.

Bayh is the son of Birch Bayh, who won three terms in the Senate from Indiana before losing his seat to Dan Quayle in the Republican landslide of 1980.

Copyright © 2006 The Associated Press

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