- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 2, 2003

WASHINGTON, Jan. 2 (UPI) — The decision by Al Gore, former vice president and Democratic nominee for president in 2000, not to seek his party's nomination in 2004 has opened the way for ambitious Democrats to enter the race, including first-term Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., who Thursday declared his intention to run.

Last month, Gore capped off a series of interviews and public appearances by announcing he would not seek his party's nomination in 2004. As Gore would have been the favorite, this decision has excited several Democrats that otherwise might not have taken the chance at a run for the top job.

Edwards has joined Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry and Vermont Gov. Howard Dean in forming exploratory committees to consider a formal run for the Democratic nomination. Connecticut Senator — and 2000 Gore running mate — Joe Lieberman has also indicated he would "probably" run as well.

Gore's decision was particularly significant for Lieberman, who had promised he would not oppose his old running mate for the nomination.

But despite Gore's announcement, no clear favorite for the nomination has emerged, leaving Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., and House Democratic Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., strongly considering joining the fray and in a position to compete for fundraising dollars based on their high-profile party roles.

Gephardt previously ran for president in 1988.

Other possible candidates for the nomination include New York community activist Rev. Al Sharpton, Florida Sen. Bob Graham, Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., and former Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerry. Gen. Wesley Clark — the top NATO commander in Europe during the Kosovo conflict who is now retired — is also said to be considering a run.

Edwards said he would use his experience as a successful trial lawyer in North Carolina to help protect the disadvantaged, but Republicans are likely to paint his previous experience as indebting him to the powerful trial attorney lobby. He seemed to anticipate that argument by highlighting his relative lack of experience in national politics during an interview with CNN.

"If the American people want somebody who's a lifelong politician to be their president, that's not me," he said. "I present something very different. And what I believe I present is somebody who understands them, understands their lives, and has real ideas, substantive, specific ideas about how to make their lives better."

The exploratory committee is generally the first official step for a candidate, in that it allows candidates to raise money and travel in the months before making a final announcement that would form an actual campaign committee.

With the critical Iowa caucus just over a year away, the other Democrats considering a run for the White House are likely to act quickly in the coming weeks to form committees of their own.

Because running for the presidency essentially becomes a full-time occupation — with travel and fund-raising occupying a lot of time — several candidates could leave their current jobs to run. Daschle is said to be considering stepping aside as Democratic leader in the Senate, while Gephardt ceded his post in the House with the change effective when the new Congress convenes next week.

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