- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 9, 2002

Republican Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee announced yesterday that he will not seek re-election, setting off furious jockeying within both parties for the seat.

"I simply do not have the heart for another six-year term," Mr. Thompson, 59, said in a written statement. "Serving in the Senate has been a tremendous honor, but I feel that I have other priorities that I need to attend to."

Mr. Thompson was touted by many as a possible future presidential candidate for the Republican Party. His decision to leave office when his term expires in January began a scramble among Republicans and Democrats to capture a pivotal seat in an election year that could determine which party controls the closely divided Senate.

Immediately there was widespread speculation yesterday that former Vice President Al Gore, who is from Tennessee, would seek to be the replacement.

But Mr. Gore released a statement yesterday saying he would not run for the seat, pledging that he would campaign for whoever gets the Senate Democratic nomination.

President Bush paid tribute to Mr. Thompson, saying he had served Tennessee with honor, distinction and class.

"He has worked tirelessly for Tennessee's interests, as well as for the national interest," Mr. Bush said in a written statement. "While I will miss Fred's service in the Senate, I wish him all the best and will always call him a friend."

Republican sources said former Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander will likely run for the seat and could announce as early as Monday.

Mr. Alexander released a statement yesterday, praising Mr. Thompson as "one of the very best senators, strong and purposeful."

"I will seriously consider being a candidate to succeed him and will make a prompt decision," the statement said.

Rep. Ed Bryant, Tennessee Republican, is also considering a run for the seat. He released a statement saying, "It is my intention to give the fullest consideration to running for his Senate seat. I will have an announcement at the appropriate time."

Mr. Thompson's retirement presents a new challenge for Republicans, who now must focus funding and attention to win a race that otherwise was considered a shoo-in.

"He was a giant, so this will change the landscape of our election," Beth Harwell, chairman of the Tennessee Republican Party, said of Mr. Thompson. "But we feel very confident that we'll be able to maintain this seat."

Mr. Thompson's announcement comes as three other prominent Senate Republican incumbents have already said that they will not be running again for office: Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, Phil Gramm of Texas and Jesse Helms of North Carolina.

Democrats yesterday were overjoyed at Mr. Thompson's announcement.

"Manna from heaven," said Jennifer Palmieri, spokeswoman for the Democratic National Committee. "We are thrilled to have an open seat in Tennessee and think we have a great shot."

A Democratic source in Tennessee said the two names being mentioned most at this point to run for the seat are Reps. Harold E. Ford Jr. and Bob Clement, both Tennessee Democrats.

Sen. Chuck Hagel, Nebraska Republican and a friend of Mr. Thompson's, said family concerns played into his decision not to seek re-election. Mr. Thompson's 38-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, died Jan. 20 after a heart attack.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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