Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee, said yesterday that he will not seek the nomination again in 2008, but will instead devote his energies to ending the war in Iraq and bringing American troops home.
Mr. Kerry had intended to make another try for the White House, but a remark he made in the fall while campaigning for Democrats suggesting that only poorly educated Americans ended up fighting in Iraq sparked an uproar of criticism, even from within his own party, that drove him from the campaign trail.
Mr. Kerry said at the time that his comments were nothing more than “a botched joke.” But the angry public reaction to his remarks, especially from military voters and veterans, embarrassed his party and, some said, tarnished his image as a presidential prospect.
“I have concluded that this is not the time for me to mount a presidential campaign,” Mr. Kerry said from the Senate floor at the end of an address opposing President Bush’s plan to send an additional 21,500 soldiers to Iraq. Instead, with his voice breaking, he said he planned to “put my energy to work as part of the majority in the Senate to do all I can to end this war.”
“What happens here in the next two years may irrevocably shape or terribly distort the administration of whichever candidate is elected president,” he said.
Mr. Kerry who ruefully recalled that he had voted for the Senate resolution to authorize the war, a vote he called “a mistake” said that as a result of his vote, he now felt “a personal responsibility to bring this war to a conclusion.”
His decision won an emotional tribute from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who was on the Senate floor as Mr. Kerry finished his speech.
“So I say to John Kerry: I love you, John Kerry. And I’m so sorry that things didn’t work out for our country. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that I will always care about you greatly and remember the times we’ve spent together,” the Nevada Democrat said.
His 2004 running mate, former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, paid tribute to Mr. Kerry by saying the withdrawal decision must have been tough because “we know his first instinct is always to respond to any call to serve his country.”
Sen. Barack Obama, Illinois Democrat, said that from Vietnam to the 2004 campaign, “John Kerry has fought for his country and his ideals and will continue to serve his country with honor and distinction in the years to come.”
But Democratic campaign strategists privately have been saying for some time that the senator was no longer a contender in a crowded field of candidates, led by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, Mr. Obama and Mr. Edwards.
A Gallup Poll of Democratic voters found last week that Mr. Kerry, who lost to Mr. Bush by a 51 percent to 48 percent margin, drew only 8 percent support among his party’s rank and file.
Democratic leaders in the early caucus and primary battlegrounds of Iowa and New Hampshire also said that Mr. Kerry was registering little support in their states, running far behind the front-runners, who already have considerable campaign organizations and fundraising pledges.
Mr. Kerry had more than $12 million in his Senate campaign account, which he could have used for a presidential bid, and a valuable e-mail list of 3 million supporters and donors who backed him in 2004. But aides to the senator said he intends to seek re-election to a fifth Senate term in 2008.
Mr. Kerry is the third major Democrat to abandon a 2008 presidential bid, joining former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner and Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana.