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Kerry says he’ll sit out 2008 race

Times Staff Writer

Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), whose 2 percentage-point loss in Ohio cost him the White House in 2004, announced on the floor of the Senate on Wednesday that he would not seek the presidency in 2008.

“This isn’t the time for me to mount a presidential campaign,” Kerry said. “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.”

Referring to his 2004 campaign, he noted: “We came close, certainly close enough to be tempted to try again.” But Kerry said he felt a special obligation to end a war that he had voted to authorize, and attacked the “arrogance” of a White House that not only ignored the advice of military leaders, but changed generals to pursue its goals.

Analysts said Kerry may also have surveyed the field of Democratic candidates -- with Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois among the front-runners -- and determined that there was little interest in a candidate given to long speeches, a less charismatic style and a similar position on the war.

“The writing was on the wall,” said Jennifer Duffy of the independent Cook Political Report. “He was getting squeezed. Where once you saw the possibility of his running an ‘I-told-you-so’ campaign, his position on Iraq is not unique anymore.”

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About a year before the first primary or caucus vote is cast, the Democratic field is taking shape. In addition to Clinton and Obama, former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina -- Kerry’s 2004 running mate -- is preparing a challenge, as are New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, Sen. Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut and Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, among others.

Eight days before the 2006 midterm election, Kerry did not help his presidential chances when he told students in California that if they did not study hard, they would “get stuck in Iraq.” Aides said he misread his text, intending to say “You end up getting us stuck in a war in Iraq. Just ask President Bush.” Kerry apologized, calling his remarks “a botched joke.”

But the media, fueled by a Republican drumbeat, kept up a barrage of stories that seemingly confirmed the GOP’s characterization of Kerry as elitist.

Kerry’s announcement came at the end of a long speech on Iraq in which he argued that the United States finds itself “doing precisely what [former Defense] Secretary [Donald H.] Rumsfeld said we wouldn’t do -- putting our troops in the middle of a civil war” between Shiite and Sunni Muslims.

Calling Bush’s proposal to send 21,500 additional troops to Iraq a “folly,” Kerry asked, “Is there one colleague here who believes that 100,000 more troops will pacify Iraq?”

Saying he was proud of his own record of opposing the Vietnam War after he returned from Navy service there -- during which he was awarded a Silver Star and Bronze Star -- Kerry said he would press the Senate not just to oppose the president’s strategy in Iraq but to cut off funding for the war. “We have to find a way to end this misguided war and bring our troops home,” he said.

Kerry’s survey of why the war was unwinnable won plaudits from his colleagues, who praised his intelligence and his heroism. “He came within a few votes of becoming president of the United States in one of the dirtiest ... campaigns I’ve ever witnessed,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). “To try to take away from this man his gallantry as a war fighter was beyond the pale, but they did it.”

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, the senior senator from Massachusetts, praised Kerry as “a true hero in every sense,” and said he knew how difficult it was for his friend to opt out of the presidential race. Those close to Kerry said he would run for a fifth Senate term in 2008.

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johanna.neuman@latimes.com


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