John Kerry, the losing 2004 presidential candidate, on Wednesday said he would not seek the Democratic nomination in 2008 but would instead remain in the Senate to fight George W. Bush’s “misguided” war in Iraq.
In an emotional speech on the Senate floor, Mr Kerry, 64, who lost the White House by a narrow margin, admitted he had made a mistake in voting for the 2002 congressional resolution authorising the invasion of Iraq.
During the 2004 campaign, Mr Bush’s campaign team painted the senator from Massachusetts as a “flip flopper”, most notoriously when he said: “I actually did vote for the $87bn [funding for the Iraq war] before I voted against it.”
On Wednesday Mr Kerry struck a clearer note when he said he wanted to spend the remaining two years of Mr Bush’s presidency making up for the fact that he had voted the wrong way in 2002. He would use his Senate perch to press for a change of direction in Iraq and after that would seek re-election to the Senate.
“We came close – certainly close enough to try again,” Mr Kerry told senators, at one point choking back tears. “But I have concluded this isn’t the time to mount a presidential campaign. We have to find a way to end this misguided war and bring our troops back home.”
Mr Kerry’s decision leaves a field of nine Democrats running or likely to announce their names soon, including Senators Hillary Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois.
Among the leading candidates only Mrs Clinton has declined to admit her vote for the 2002 resolution was a mistake. Mr Obama, who opposed the war, was not a lawmaker then.
Mrs Clinton recently said she would not have voted for the resolution if she had known then what she knew now. But her aggressive criticisms of Mr Bush’s “new way forward” in the last week have restored much of her lost credibility with the Democratic rank and file. Mrs Clinton holds large leads over Mr Obama among Democrats, according to polls.
“Kerry’s departure from the race is really a signal of how strong the field is already,” said Vic Fazio, a former Democratic congressman. “But that does not mean we won’t see other candidates, such as Al Gore [former vice-president], entering the race at a later stage.”
Mr Gore, whose film on global warming, An Inconvenient Truth, was nominated for two Oscar categories on Monday in Los Angeles, has not completely ruled out entering the 2008 race.
Some Democratic consultants have speculated that the losing 2000 presidential candidate might declare his intention to run in 2008 after having won an Oscar in March. But the chances, they say, are still slim.