- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 17, 2002

Al Gore said yesterday that he decided to skip the 2004 presidential race because he could best help the Democratic Party by not running.

"I believe it's the right thing for the country. I believe it's the right thing for the political party that I'm a member of and what I hope that political party will stand for," the former vice president said in Raleigh, N.C., a day after announcing on "60 Minutes" that he would not seek his party's nomination.

Mr. Gore also said he did not want a rematch with President Bush, who defeated him in 2000.

"It is undeniably the case that there are folks in parts of the Democratic Party who felt exhausted by the whole 2000 process, not to mention the 36 days that came after Election Day," Mr. Gore said.

Mr. Gore said voters are tired of "rehashing" the 2000 election and his other unsuccessful bid for the presidency.

"Because I have run for president twice before, and because a race this time around would have focused on a Bush-Gore rematch, I felt that the focus of that race would inevitably have been more on the past than it should have been, when all races ought to be focused on the future."

Mr. Gore won the presidential popular vote by a half-million votes in 2000 but conceded to Mr. Bush after a tumultuous 36-day recount in Florida that ended with a Supreme Court vote against allowing repeated recounts in the state.

While Mr. Gore acknowledged that his decision "probably means that I will never again have an opportunity to run for president," other candidates yesterday moved into the vacuum left by his departure.

Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut yesterday said he will announce early next month whether he plans to seek the Democratic nomination.

"I said I probably would run if Al Gore doesn't run, and that remains the case," said Mr. Lieberman, who is taking a trip this week to the Persian Gulf and Middle East and will visit U.S. troops in the region.

Rep. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri, who stepped down as House minority leader last month, has raised speculation he will run. And Mr. Gore's decision may drive Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota into the race.

Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, where the Democratic National Committee will hold its 2004 convention, has formed an exploratory committee in preparation for a run. Vermont Gov. Howard Dean is already a candidate, and Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina plans an announcement after the Christmas holiday.

Mr. Gore said he reached his decision Friday as he talked with family members gathering in New York to watch him host "Saturday Night Live."

"I felt after being in those conversations with my family that I was getting ready to come to closure, but I didn't mean to imply by that they were nudging me one way or another; they were not," he said. "It was just a slow dawning of what I felt was the right thing to do."

But he refused to rule out another run for the top slot, with tongue in cheek.

"I might as well tell you you're going to discover, sooner or later, this is actually a very clever strategy to lay the groundwork for a presidential race in 2016," he said.

Mr. Gore is a vice chairman of Metropolitan West Financial, a Los Angeles-based financial services holding company. He also is a college professor, speaker and author.

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