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Monday, 16 December, 2002, 23:46 GMT
Gore surprise leaves field clear
Al Gore (left) and Joe Lieberman (right) during 2000 campaign
Lieberman (r) said he would not run against Gore
The Democratic Party has been left without a clear candidate to challenge George W Bush for the White House in 2004, after former US Vice President Al Gore's surprise decision not to run.

Mr Gore made his announcement on Sunday evening, saying that a re-run of the acrimonious election of 2000 would "focus on the past" and his court battle with Mr Bush for the presidency.

Reflecting on the decision on Monday, Mr Gore said it was probably the hardest one he had ever made.

But he added: ''I am completely at peace with the decision. I believe it's the right thing for the country and the right thing for the political party I'm a member of ... and I think it's the right thing for me and my family."

It probably means that I will never have another opportunity to run for president

Al Gore

On Sunday's CBS programme 60 Minutes, Mr Gore said he believed that a Democrat could beat Mr Bush in two years time, and said that he wanted to contribute to the campaign.

One prominent Democrat contender could now be Senator Joe Lieberman, Mr Gore's running mate in 2000, who had said he would not run against Mr Gore for the Democratic nomination.

He has yet to react to the news of Mr Gore's decision, but the BBC's Justin Webb says he may well emerge soon as a strong candidate.

Losing ground

The only Democrat who has officially declared he will seek the presidential nomination is Governor Howard Dean of Vermont.

Al Gore
Bowing out: New challenge "not the right thing to do"

But more senior party members - including Senators Tom Daschle and John Kerry, and Congressman Dick Gephardt - may also put themselves forward in the coming months.

Since the 11 September attacks on New York and Washington, President Bush's popularity has soared, making the task of running against him in 2004 all the harder.

Opinion polls give him a lead of 20% lead over Mr Gore, whereas the two were running level prior to September 2001.

Mr Gore said he believed that in order to win in 2004, the Democrats needed to focus "unrelentingly" on the economy - but he did not believe he was the man to do it.

TALKING POINT
Where to now for the US Democrats?
The Democrats in Congress are mostly weak-kneed poll readers so I don't hold out hope for any of them

Lisa, Virginia, USA

"I think that a campaign that would be a rematch between myself and President Bush would inevitably involve a focus on the past that would, in some measure, distract from the focus on the future," Mr Gore said.

Al Gore won the popular vote in the 2000 election, but was narrowly beaten in the Electoral College votes that decide the presidency, after a long recount in the state of Florida.

Mr Gore challenged the Florida count in the courts, but finally lost a Supreme Court decision and conceded the election.

Exhaustion

Mr Gore said the 2000 campaign had been "extremely difficult one" and had left many people exhausted within the Democratic Party.

Richard Gephardt
Gephardt is one of the Democrats' heavy hitters
"I personally have the energy, the drive and ambition to make another campaign, but I don't think it's the right thing for me to do," he said.

"I want to contribute to ending the current administration. I think the current policies have to be changed. I think that my best way of contributing to that result may not be as a candidate this time around."

Although Mr Gore could theoretically run for the White House in 2008, he admitted that his announcement spelt the end to any realistic presidential ambitions.

"It probably means that I will never have another opportunity to run for president," he said.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Nick Bryant
"This is a saga with plotlines straight from a Shakespearean tragedy"
The BBC's Ian Pannell reports from Washington
"They say all political careers end in failure"
Rachelle Valladares, Democrats Abroad
"This was definitely his own decision to make"

Talking PointTALKING POINT
Talking Point: US DemocratsGore bows out
Where to now for the US Democrats?
See also:

17 Dec 02 | Americas
15 Nov 02 | Americas
15 Oct 02 | Americas
03 Oct 02 | Americas
23 Nov 02 | Americas
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