WASHINGTON (AP) – Democratic Sen. John Kerry, who fell 118,601 Ohio votes short of the White House in 2004, said yesterday he will not run for president in 2008.

“We came close. certainly close enough to be tempted to try again,” the Massachusetts senator said, recalling his defeat.

“There are powerful reasons to want to continue that fight now. But I have concluded this isn’t the time for me to mount a presidential campaign.”

His decision leaves a field of nine Democrats running or signaling their intention to do so, including Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois, and John Edwards, Kerry’s 2004 vice presidential running mate.

The Republican field is similarly crowded, with Bush constitutionally barred from seeking a third term in office.

Officials said Kerry would seek a new six-year term in the Senate in 2008. The fourth-term lawmaker and decorated Vietnam War veteran said he would devote his time and energy to ending the conflict in Iraq.

He said he wanted President Bush’s successor to enter office with the United States having “a reasonable prospect of success” in Iraq.

“I don’t want the next president to find that they have inherited a nation still divided and a policy destined to end as Vietnam did -in a bitter and sad legacy,” he said.

Kerry, 64, made the announcement on the Senate floor at the end of a lengthy speech on Iraq. He briefly choked up.

Edwards said he knew the decision was a difficult one for Kerry “because we know his first instinct is always to respond to any call to serve his country.” In a statement, he added that Kerry will work to find the appropriate exit from the Iraq war and said, “In Vietnam, in public office and in private life, John Kerry has always fought the good fight for the right cause.”

Obama 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.”

Kerry’s 2004 campaign drew widespread criticism from fellow Democrats after his defeat. His critics said he had failed to make a forceful enough response to Republican criticism as well as charges by conservative groups that he did not deserve the medals he won for combat in the Vietnam War.

The senator stirred unhappy memories for Democrats last fall, when he botched a joke and led Republicans to accuse him of attacking U.S. troops in Iraq.

He apologized, then hastily scrapped several days of campaigning for fellow Democrats as party leaders urged him to avoid becoming an unwanted issue in a campaign they were on the way to winning.

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