Short on cash and votes, Kerrey decides to withdraw from race

March 05, 1992|By Knight-Ridder News Service

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Bob Kerrey of Nebraska, the Vietnam War hero who plunged into the presidential race almost on impulse last year, decided yesterday to withdraw after running out of money and votes, campaign sources said.

The first of the five major Democratic candidates to abandon the chase, Mr. Kerrey appears to be acknowledging that his one-note platform on national health insurance and the fuzziness of his overall message simply failed to stir voter passions.

Mr. Kerrey returned to Washington yesterday after canceling appearances in Florida and on CNN's "Larry King Live." His campaign issued no official explanation. A formal announcement is expected today.

Despite early appraisals as one of the strongest of the principal contenders, Mr. Kerrey turned in feeble performances in New Hampshire last month and in other primaries. The Nebraskan won only one state primary -- in neighboring South Dakota. In Georgia and Maryland on Tuesday, he received only 5 percent of the vote.

When asked after Tuesday night's disappointing performance where his campaign was headed, Mr. Kerrey said: "Nowhere."

Mr. Kerrey announced his candidacy with all the right political credentials: Medal of Honor recipient and prairie populist who also had a glamorous Hollywood connection. But he was essentially a political neophyte: He had run for office only twice in his career.

He never seemed able to really tell voters what impelled him to run for president. Asked that in New Hampshire, Mr. Kerrey gulped and replied: "I intend to go out and tell Americans that we are . . . Americans."

Mr. Kerrey's call to a new generation of voters to "look to the post-Cold War era" never struck a resonant chord. Many of the young activists whom Mr. Kerrey hoped to rally spurned him for former California Gov. Edmund G. "Jerry" Brown -- who gave fuller voice to a more radical, anti-establishment message.

Mr. Kerrey's senior adviser, Mike McCurry, blamed lack of resources for the candidate's devastating loss in Colorado Tuesday -- a state that he had banked on to deliver the potent counterpunch he desperately needed to revive his campaign.

"We didn't get on the air," Mr. McCurry said. "We didn't have any dough. The [victory in the South Dakota primary] didn't convert quickly enough to get us on the air in time."

Mr. McCurry also lamented that Mr. Kerrey couldn't gain control of the fast-moving debate among the Democratic candidates.

But outside political analysts said Mr. Kerrey failed to develop a campaign message that connected with voters and that, out on the trail, he often seemed unprepared for the rigors of presidential politics.

"There's no time [in presidential races] for on-the-job training," said Will Marshall, president the Progressive Policy Institute, a Democratic think tank allied with Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton, one of the primary front-runners. "The fundamental reason [for his failure] is he was not intellectually prepared for the challenge. He jumped impulsively into the race and had thought out only one issue [health insurance] -- and it was not THE issue."

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