WASHINGTON --An emotional Senator John F. Kerry today said he will not run in the 2008 presidential race and vowed to use his Senate perch to hasten an end to the war in Iraq, saying he would work with lawmakers from both parties to reverse President Bush's troop "surge" and force him to withdraw virtually all troops from Iraq by early next year.
Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat, used the unusual forum of the Senate floor to announce his political ambitions. Choking up as he harkened back to his service in Vietnam, Kerry said he would work to make sure the next president doesn't have to cope with the consequences of a "wider war" sparked by the failed policy in Iraq.
"Two years ago I sought the presidency to lead us on a different course. I'm proud of the campaign that we ran," Kerry said.
"We came close, Mr. President, certainly close enough to be tempted to try again," he continued. "There are powerful reasons to want to continue that fight now. But I've concluded that this isn't the time for me to mount a presidential campaign. 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 and strengthen our security.
"The people of Massachusetts have given me an incredible privilege to serve, and I intend to work here to change a policy in Iraq that threatens all that I have cared about and fought for since I came home from Vietnam," he said.
Kerry's decision to stay out of the presidential race reflects a realization that he would have had an uphill climb in capturing the Democratic nomination, given the other party heavyweights who are already in the race, according to Kerry associates.
Kerry, the party's 2004 presidential nominee, has been acting like a 2008 candidate virtually since he lost to President Bush -- traveling the country, spreading money to other Democratic candidates, and keeping in place a campaign infrastructure that was ready for another presidential bid.
But according to Kerry associates, the senator's plans changed dramatically in the fallout of his election-eve "botched joke" about the education levels of US troops. The harsh reaction to that incident -- from many Democrats as well as Republicans -- displayed to Kerry the extreme skepticism within his own party about whether he should mount another run.
And, with polls giving front-runner status to Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Senator Barack Obama of Illinois, Kerry realized that he would face formidable adversaries in the quest for the Democratic nomination. Clinton, Obama, and a host of other candidates have been busily hiring campaign operatives and signing up key fund-raisers in recent weeks.
On Iraq, Kerry has emerged as a fierce war critic after initially supporting the invasion of Iraq. He has spoken of his war opposition in a similar vein to his efforts to bring the Vietnam War to a conclusion in the early 1970s.
Kerry's announcement freezes in place the various Democratic aspirants to his Senate seat. Massachusetts hasn't had a vacant Senate seat since 1984 -- when Kerry himself won his first six-year-term -- and several members of the state's all-Democratic congressional delegation have expressed interest in running for the Senate if Kerry retired.