- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 7, 2003

WASHINGTON, Jan. 7 (UPI) — Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle on Tuesday announced he would not seek his party's presidential nomination in 2004, saying he could best serve the nation and his home state of South Dakota by remaining a key player in Congress.

"I've concluded that at this moment in our history, with so many important decisions to be made about our nation's future, my passion lies here in the Senate serving the people of South Dakota, and fighting for working families all across America," he said in a statement.

The decision came as a surprise to top staff, who had been working to set up a Saturday news conference in South Dakota where Daschle was expected to say he intended to run for the Democrats' presidential nomination. The news conference was to be the launch of a stump tour of the key primary states of New Hampshire, Iowa and South Carolina.

Daschle's statement acknowledged that he "came very close to deciding in favor of running."

Although by virtue of his position as the top Democrat in the Senate, Daschle would have been a formidable candidate, his failure to protect the narrow Democratic majority in the Senate during last year's midterm elections did not endear him as a national candidate to many in the Democratic base, said several key Democratic staff members.

In Tuesday's statement, Daschle did not miss a chance to attack President Bush's performance in managing the economy, pre-empting the president's plan for stimulating the economy.

"The United States Senate has an opportunity to shape the nation's priorities — not just over the next 2 years, but for a generation or more," Daschle said. "This afternoon, President Bush is proposing an economic plan that not only continues a failed economic policy that is wrong for the country now, but weakens our ability to meet America's great national challenges for years to come."

Daschle decided not to join a race that was already top heavy with Senate Democrats — including John Kerry of Massachusetts; and John Edwards of North Carolina; and likely Joe Lieberman, from Connecticut - with Sen. Chris Dodd, Conn., Bob Graham, Fla., and Joe Biden, Del., considering joining the fray.

Former House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., has formed an exploratory committee for a likely run. Outside Congress, Vermont Gov. Howard Dean and New York community activist Rev. Al Sharpton have announced their intention to run for the nomination.

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