Sunday, November 12, 2006

Sen. John McCain yesterday announced that he will create a presidential exploratory committee, the usual prelude to a formal entrance into the race, and said he would decide during the Christmas holidays whether to officially enter the 2008 White House race.

“I always said I would decide early next year, and I’ll sit down over the holidays with my family and make that decision,” the Arizona Republican said during an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “Are we doing the things organizationally and legally that need to be done to prepare for it? Yes.”

When asked whether he would form an exploratory committee, Mr. McCain said, “I think so.”

Mr. McCain also sought to secure his conservative credentials during the appearance, saying he considers himself a conservative in the mold of President Reagan. He also said he thinks Republican losses last week will prove a temporary setback for his party.

“I believe America is still a conservative right-of-center nation, and our message, our Republican message, is best.”

Although Mr. McCain is not the favorite prospective candidate of some grass-roots conservatives, some observers think his prospects for securing the Republican presidential nomination have improved since last Tuesday’s elections.

Sens. George Allen of Virginia and Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania were previously considered as contenders for the nomination, but both Republicans lost their re-election campaigns this year. Neither men have officially ruled out a 2008 campaign, but most observers agree that would be difficult to do so coming off the heels of a recent electoral defeat.

The field of prospective 2008 Democrat candidates also continues to shift. Yesterday, Sen. Russ Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat, posted a letter to supporters on his campaign Web site announcing that he will not pursue his party’s nomination.

“I’m sure a campaign for president would have been a great adventure and helpful in advancing a progressive agenda,” Mr. Feingold wrote. “At this time, however, I believe I can best advance that progressive agenda as a senator with significant seniority in the new Senate serving on the Foreign Relations, Intelligence, Judiciary and Budget committees.”

Mr. Feingold’s decision not to run comes on the heels of popular former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner also deciding to pass on seeking the Democrat’s nomination.

As is widely expected, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., Delaware Democrat, said he is still planning to run for president.

“I’m going to address that after the first of the year,” he said during an appearance yesterday on ABC’s “This Week.” “I still plan on running. I haven’t, quite frankly, thought through all of the, you know, the mechanics of it at this point in terms of when to announce setting up an exploratory committee, but I plan on doing that.”

Mr. Biden last made a run for the White House in 1988 and is considered by many to be one of his party’s leading authorities on foreign-policy matters.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat, is considered the front-runner for her party’s nomination. However, a number of Democrats say they are open to an alternative to Mrs. Clinton because while many polls show her winning the Democrat’s nomination, most of those same polls show her trailing against her potential Republican rivals in a general election.

Much speculation lately has focused on first-term Sen. Barack Obama, Illinois Democrat. Mr. Obama recently announced that he is considering a White House run.

A recent poll by Rasmussen Reports shows 22 percent of Democrats supporting Mr. Obama in 2008, compared with 29 percent supporting Mrs. Clinton.

“Look, Barack has done an enormous amount for the party,” said Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean during an appearance yesterday on “Fox News Sunday.”

However, Mr. Dean added, “I don’t comment on 2008, because I really do have to be the referee and have to be entirely neutral, and I’m going to continue to be entirely neutral.”

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