Democratic Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, who lost a bitter 2004 election to President George W. Bush, said on Wednesday he would forego another White House run in 2008 and concentrate on Senate efforts to end the Iraq war.
“I’ve concluded this isn’t the time for me to mount a presidential campaign,” Kerry said in a speech on the Senate floor.
“It is the time to put my energy to work as part of the majority in the Senate to do all I can to end this war,” he said. “What happens here in the next two years may irrevocably shape or terribly distort the administration of whichever candidate is elected president.”
Kerry would have faced a tough challenge overcoming the criticism of some Democrats that he ran a lackluster 2004 campaign that failed to take advantage of growing public doubts about Bush’s leadership and the Iraq war.
He also would have been up against a crowded and high-profile presidential field of at least eight Democrats led by Senate colleagues Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois, as well as his 2004 running mate John Edwards, a former senator from North Carolina.
But Kerry had assets as well, including more than $12 million in his Senate campaign account he could have shifted to a presidential bid and an e-mail list of more than three million supporters from 2004.
“WE CAME CLOSE”
“I’m proud of the campaign we ran, proud of the fact that three years ago I said Iraq was the wrong war at the wrong place at the wrong time,” Kerry said of the 2004 campaign.
“We came close,” he said. “Certainly close enough to be tempted to try again.”
Kerry, who supports efforts to force Bush to set a deadline to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq, plans to run for re-election to the Senate when his term is up in 2008, aides said.
They said he wanted to find the best way to influence the debate over the war without being seen as posturing for political gain. He has no immediate plans to endorse any of the Democratic contenders, an aide said.
Kerry, a four-term senator and decorated Vietnam War veteran, endured a fresh wave of criticism a week before November’s election when he made what he called a “botched joke” about troops in Iraq that prompted a storm of Republican criticism.
He was forced to apologize and cancel campaign stops after telling students in California that if they did not study hard they would “get stuck in Iraq.” Aides said he misread his text and intended to say “You end up getting us stuck in a war in Iraq. Just ask President Bush.”
Kerry said his remarks were aimed at Bush and his Iraq policies, not the military, but Republicans quickly turned the line into campaign-trail fodder.
His announcement on Wednesday triggered a flurry of testimonials from Democrats. Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware, who plans to make his presidential campaign official by the end of the month, said his reaction was “extreme sadness.”
“John Kerry is a major voice in American politics and the country would be much better off today if he were president,” Biden said.
Kerry’s move means the Democratic White House field is largely set, with a few remaining question marks. Former Vice President Al Gore says he does not plan to run, but has never firmly ruled it out. Retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark, an unsuccessful candidate in 2004, has not announced a decision.
Clinton has an early lead in national polls over Obama, Edwards, Biden and the other Democratic contenders — New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut and Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich.
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