Kerry Sits This One Out

CBS News' Deputy Political Director Steve Chaggaris covered the John Kerry campaign three years ago -- and has some thoughts on the news the Senator made today.
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Well, we won't have John Kerry to kick around anymore.

He announced today he's not running for president this year and he's just going to concentrate on getting re-elected to the Senate in 2008.

Makes you wonder: how could a guy who lost a close presidential race just two years ago be in a situation where the lack of support for a reprise forced him to make this announcement?

Kerry supporters insist his legacy will be that he was the one who "led the fight" against the war in Iraq during his 2004 campaign, that he was a Democratic leader who raised $14 million for political candidates last year and now he continues to stand up against the war.

But, to add a little perspective, as the CBS News off-air reporter who covered Sen. Kerry for over a year in 2003-2004, let me just run down some of the lowlights that led up to today's announcement.

I witnessed first-hand the March 2004 town-hall meeting in West Virginia when Kerry uttered the famous words: "I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it," referring to a Senate bill to fund troops in Iraq. The Republicans pounced and turned Kerry into a "flip-flopper" with just that one sentence. Months of Republican jabbing ensued and Kerry ultimately failed to respond to that criticism.

On a rainy July 2004 evening in Boston , I stood on the Democratic National Convention stage, less than 100 feet from Kerry, as he proclaimed, "I'm John Kerry and I'm reporting for duty," which almost immediately launched a torrent of criticism from the "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth." Kerry ultimately failed to effectively respond to that criticism.

Then there were the critics in his own party when it was discovered that Kerry was sitting on millions of dollars of campaign cash, after his election loss.

And just last October was the straw that broke the camel's back. Days before the election, at a time when the Democrats felt they were on the verge of taking back Congress, were looking to leave their bad memories of losing behind and, even more, perhaps looking for a reason to leave Kerry behind, he said this:

"Education, if you make the most of it, you study hard, you do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. And if you don't, you get stuck in Iraq."

Republicans, as they had done so many times in the past unloaded on Kerry, saying he was insulting the troops. Democrats were quick to run away from him.

So, with years of bad vibes following him around, a crowded Democratic presidential field in front of him, potential staffers signing up with candidates such as Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, low poll ratings and the prospect of not being able to raise enough money to compete in the wide open primary, Kerry took to the Senate floor this afternoon, fighting back tears, and made it official:

"I have concluded that this is not the time for me to mount a presidential campaign."

  • Steve Chaggaris

    Steve Chaggaris is CBS News' senior political editor.