Kerrey likely to launch bid for presidency soon

September 05, 1991|By Paul West | Paul West,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- Adding an unpredictable new dimension to the 1992 presidential contest, Sen. Bob Kerrey of Nebraska signaled his intention yesterday to enter the Democratic race.

In a two-sentence statement released by his Washington office, the 48-year-old Vietnam War hero said he would make a formal announcement of his plans later this month. A Kerrey aide said the announcement was likely to be made two or three weeks from now in the senator's hometown of Omaha or in Lincoln, Nebraska's capital.

"My interest in running for president is based upon the belief that the possibility of a better future 20 years from now will be determined by our actions today," Mr. Kerrey said in the prepared statement.

The first-term senator surprised many Democrats late last month when he expressed interest in entering the presidential race. After indicating earlier this year that he would not be a candidate, Mr. Kerrey explained that he decided to re-examine his plans after more prominent Democrats passed up the 1992 contest.

While his statement stopped short of a flat declaration of candidacy, Kerrey aides and advisers confirmed that he has privately begun telling Democrats around the country that he would run. One adviser, who spoke on condition that he not be named, said Mr. Kerrey felt he needed several weeks to organize hiscampaign and prepare a well thought-out speech before formally announcing.

A Navy veteran who won the congressional Medal of Honor for heroism in Vietnam, where he lost part of his right leg, Mr. Kerrey is considered one of the Democratic Party's glamorous young stars.

Mr. Kerrey's appeal is often described as Kennedyesque, and despite his liberal voting record on foreign policy issues, his war record provides protection against Republican charges that he is weak on national defense.

As the popular governor of Nebraska in the mid-1980s, Mr. Kerrey, who is divorced, drew national publicity when actress Debra Winger moved into the governor's mansion. He stunned supporters by refusing to seek re-election in 1986, but two years later, he came back and easily won election to the Senate.

His likely candidacy changes the dynamics of a presidential primary race that had been shaping up as a classic matchup of old and new Democrats, with traditional liberal Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa on one side and Arkansas' new-style Gov. Bill Clinton on the other.

"It adds someone who is provocative, unorthodox and charismatic, and that can only be good for the Democrats," said Michael McCurry, a former Democratic National Committee spokesman and presidential campaigning veteran.

He noted that Mr. Kerrey poses a potential threat to Mr. Clinton, since both men are likely to appeal for support from younger voters.

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