WASHINGTON -- Striking his name from the list of potential presidential candidates, former Sen. George S. McGovern announced yesterday that he would not seek the Democratic nomination in 1992.
Mr. McGovern, who lost a record 49 states to President Richard M. Nixon in 1972, said that personal factors, including "the risk of ridicule" and possible rejection, led him to pass up a third full-fledged presidential try.
The former South Dakota senator also made an unsuccessful run for the nomination in 1984.
The 68-year-old South Dakota native, who had been exploring a possible campaign for several months, told a National Press Club audience that a "younger, less battle-scarred" candidate was likely to become the Democratic nominee next year.
New York Gov. Mario M. Cuomo is the Democrat with the best chance of defeating President Bush, he said. He praised several other potential candidates, including Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerrey and the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, as well as former Massachusetts Sen. Paul Tsongas, the only formally declared candidate.
Democrats trying to craft a new, more centrist message for 1992 had, both publicly and privately, expressed the hope that Mr. McGovern would stay out of the race and spare the party the inevitable, unflattering comparisons with the liberal past.
But Mr. McGovern advised his fellow Democrats not to "run away from liberalism."
"If we surrender our principles," he said, "we don't deserve to win."
He said that Democrats must offer an economic conversion plan for the post-Cold War era that would reduce the nation's "vastly overblown and obsolete military budget" and focus attention on domestic concerns.
"Our real problems are not halfway around the world. They're halfway down the block," said the man who carried the anti-war banner during the Vietnam era and made "Come home, America" his 1972 campaign slogan.
In a personal aside near the close of his prepared remarks, Mr. McGovern noted that he had been described as "a big loser. And, in a sense, that's true."
But, he said, he was "a liberal and proud of it, proud of the things for which I have stood, the battles I have fought."
During a question-and-answer period following his speech, Mr. McGovern acknowledged wistfully that he did not know whether anyone would have listened to him if he had run.
"I don't know whether I would have been taken seriously or dismissed as a has-been," he said. "I guess I'll never know now."