Kerry won't seek presidency

Democrat says he'll push White House to set date for Iraq pullout

January 25, 2007|By Jill Zuckman | Jill Zuckman,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

WASHINGTON -- Sen. John Kerry, the Democratic nominee for president in 2004, announced yesterday that he will shelve his presidential ambitions and spend his time working to force the White House to set a date for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq.

"As someone who made the mistake of voting for the resolution that gave the president the authority to go to war, I feel the weight of a personal responsibility to act, to devote time and energy to the national dialogue in an effort to limit this war and bring our participation to a conclusion," Kerry said during a lengthy speech on the Senate floor.

The Massachusetts senator's decision spares him from a grueling 2008 primary contest against two of the biggest stars in presidential politics, Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois.

It also frees up a bevy of heavyweight Democratic fundraisers, activists and political consultants who are fixtures on the Boston and New Hampshire political scene, as well as nationally.

Kerry began his political career as a young Vietnam veteran who famously questioned the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1971, asking: "How do you ask a man to be the last person to die for a mistake?"

Yesterday, he said he never thought he would have to ask that question again. But its relevance today, he said, persuaded him to stay in the Senate and search for a solution to the problems in Iraq.

"The fact is, what happens here in the next two years may irrevocably shape or terribly distort the administration of whichever candidate is next elected president," said Kerry, his voice breaking slightly. "I don't want the next president to find they have inherited a nation still divided and a policy destined to end as Vietnam did, in a bitter and sad legacy."

Still, the decision to forsake another presidential campaign and instead seek re-election to the Senate was a painful one, friends said. Famously competitive, Kerry is a windsurfer, bicyclist and avid snowboarder who hates to lose.

He narrowly lost the 2004 election, failing to carry Ohio and unable to win voters' affections. When he began his race, he joked about removing his "aloof gland," but his natural reserve was always present as he mingled uncomfortably with voters on the campaign trail.

More recently, voters were again reminded of his imperfections as a candidate.

While campaigning for Democrats during the 2006 midterm elections, a botched joke might have sealed his fate. "You know education, if you make the most of it, you study hard, you do your homework, and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well," he said. "If you don't, you get stuck in Iraq."

What was supposed to be a zinger aimed at President Bush became a hand grenade that seemingly blew up Kerry's political ambitions. Democratic leaders urged Kerry to get off the campaign trail lest he distract from candidates trying to unseat incumbent Republicans.

Jill Zuckman writes for the Chicago Tribune.

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