By Chris Cillizza
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Thursday, January 25, 2007; A04
Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts ruled out a second presidential bid yesterday, asserting that he could do more to change the course of Iraq policy in the Senate than by campaigning in Iowa and New Hampshire.
"I've concluded this isn't the time for me to mount a presidential campaign," the former Democratic nominee said. "I intend to work here to change a policy in Iraq that threatens all that I have worked for and cared about since I came home from Vietnam."
Since his loss to President Bush in 2004, Kerry had left open the possibility of a return run. He had emerged as one of the most vociferous voices in opposition to the war in Iraq and spent much of the 2006 campaign season traveling the country in support of Democratic candidates. Much of that work was forgotten when, a little more than a week before Election Day, Kerry made a remark that Republicans said was disparaging to American troops in Iraq. He insisted that it was nothing more than a botched joke, but he quickly issued an apology.
Several people close to Kerry said he struggled with the decision over whether to run again, weighing the narrowness of his 2004 defeat against the obvious hurdles presented by a Democratic field filled with popular figures such as Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) and former senator John Edwards (N.C.). Kerry acknowledged as much in his remarks, saying: "We came close, certainly close enough to try again."
The sources said his decision was not motivated by national and state polling that showed him trailing Clinton, Obama and Edwards in hypothetical 2008 matchups. They noted that Kerry has nearly $13 million in the bank, which could have been used to reintroduce himself to voters. But there are real concerns that a second national candidacy could endanger Kerry's standing in his home state.
"Like a very smart fighter, [Kerry] made the best long-term decision for himself and the country by recognizing where the real battlefield is on the Iraq war," said Jenny Backus, a former Kerry adviser who is currently neutral in the 2008 race.
Kerry is expected to run for a fifth Senate term in 2008. He made clear during his speech that he will continue to forcefully oppose the foreign policy course being pursued by the Bush administration.
"It's not enough for Congress to go on record opposing the president's reckless plan," Kerry said. He added that he supports a measure that would require congressional authorization for any further U.S. troop buildup in Iraq.
In an e-mail to past supporters announcing his decision, Kerry unveiled a new online grass-roots effort, which is being run by progressive blog guru Jerome Armstrong. The effort seeks "co-sponsors" to legislation he plans to introduce aimed at forcing Bush to set a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. The proposal mirrors one Kerry offered last April that would have required all U.S. forces be out of Iraq by the end of 2006; it was defeated 83 to 16 in a Senate vote in June.
Kerry's announcement came on the same day that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved a nonbinding resolution expressing disapproval of a surge of additional U.S. troops in Iraq. Sen. Chuck Hagel (Neb.), a potential presidential candidate, was the only Republican who voted in favor of the resolution.
Edwards, who was Kerry's running mate in 2004, called the Massachusetts senator a "friend." He noted that "all Americans are fortunate to have John's experience, insight and conscience in the Senate."
Obama was similarly laudatory, predicting that Kerry "will continue to serve his country with honor and distinction in the years to come."
Many Democrats had regarded Kerry's decision as a foregone conclusion because of the competitive field, his baggage from the 2004 election and the historical unwillingness of the Democratic Party to renominate a losing presidential candidate.
Stephanie Cutter, Kerry's national spokeswoman in 2004, praised the senator for the campaign he ran, but she added: "The reality is the 2008 race moved past him months ago, and catching up would have taken much more than another candidate's implosion or last-minute surge."
Kerry's allies said yesterday that he remains a major political force in no small part because of his fundraising ability. In last year's election campaign, they noted, he raised $14 million for 260 candidates, thanks to an e-mail list that contains more than 3 million names.