Kerry rules out '08 White House run

Published: Thursday, January 25, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 24, 2007 at 11:00 p.m.

WASHINGTON — Democratic Sen. John Kerry, who fell 118,601 Ohio votes short of the White House in 2004, said Wednesday he will not run for president in 2008.

"We came close ... certainly close enough to be tempted to try again," the Massachusetts senator said, recalling his defeat.

"There are powerful reasons to want to continue that fight now. But I have concluded this isn't the time for me to mount a presidential campaign."

His decision leaves a field of nine Democrats running or signaling their intention to do so, including Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois, and John Edwards, Kerry's 2004 vice presidential running mate.

The Republican field is similarly crowded, with Bush constitutionally barred from seeking a third term in office.

Officials said Kerry would seek a new six-year term in the Senate in 2008. The fourth-term lawmaker and decorated Vietnam War veteran said he would devote his time and energy to ending the conflict in Iraq.

He said he wanted President Bush's successor to enter office with the United States having "a reasonable prospect of success" in Iraq.

"I don't want the next president to find that they have inherited a nation still divided and a policy destined to end as Vietnam did — in a bitter and sad legacy," he said.

Kerry, 64, made the announcement on the Senate floor at the end of a lengthy speech on Iraq.

Edwards said he knew the decision was a difficult one for Kerry "because we know his first instinct is always to respond to any call to serve his country." In a statement, he added that Kerry will work to find the appropriate exit from the Iraq war and said, "In Vietnam, in public office and in private life, John Kerry has always fought the good fight for the right cause."

Obama said that from Vietnam to the 2004 campaign, "John Kerry has fought for his country and his ideals. ... and will continue to serve his country with honor and distinction in the years to come."

Kerry's 2004 campaign drew widespread criticism from fellow Democrats after his defeat. His critics said he had failed to make a forceful enough response to Republican criticism as well as charges by conservative groups that he did not deserve the medals he won for combat in the Vietnam War.

The senator stirred unhappy memories for Democrats last fall, when he botched a joke and led Republicans to accuse him of attacking U.S. troops in Iraq.

He apologized, then hastily scrapped several days of campaigning for fellow Democrats as party leaders urged him to avoid becoming an unwanted issue in a campaign they were on the way to winning.

At the same time, he worked to keep his presidential hopes alive.

Aides said he had donated more than $14 million to more than 260 Democratic candidates in 2006, and campaigned in 35 states. They said he has an active online community of more than 3 million people, and has $12.5 million in his campaign bank account, advantages for any presidential contender.

At the same time, polls showed Kerry trailing his Democratic rivals. Last October, an Associated Press-AOL News poll had Kerry at just 1 percent and recent surveys indicated he had gained little among Democrats.

In a CNN/ORC poll released Wednesday, 51 percent of Democrats said they would not like to see Kerry run in 2008. When asked who they would support, only 5 percent said Kerry, placing him fifth and far behind leader Clinton at 33 percent.

The Massachusetts lawmaker decided to clarify his political plans on a day in which he participated in a debate over the war in Iraq by invoking memories of Vietnam. At the committee hearing, he said a memorable question he first posed in 1971 had relevance today: "How do you ask a man to be the last person to die for a mistake?"

Despite his difficulties on a national level, Kerry customarily rolls up large victory margins at home in Massachusetts. He won his first term in 1984.

While Kerry was saying privately as recently as December that he would likely wage a second campaign, the tone among his aides changed in recent weeks as Clinton and Obama announced their White House bids.

Instead, aides began talking about Kerry's concern about the personal toll a campaign would take. Kerry had millions left from his 2004 run — a sore point with some Democrats. Despite the advantage, he would have faced intense competition with Obama, Clinton and Edwards for campaign dollars.

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