Democrats mull 2008 bid as GOP's McCain sets up exploratory committee

Monday, November 13th 2006, 6:15 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Republican Sen. John McCain edged closer to a 2008 White House run, while Democratic Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama said they're still weighing whether to enter the wide-open race to succeed President Bush.

The end of the congressional midterm election traditionally marks the start of the presidential campaign season, and several prospective nominees wasted no time signaling their inclinations.

McCain, R-Ariz., said Sunday he was taking the initial steps for a White House bid, setting up a committee that allows a potential candidate to raise money and travel the country to gauge support.

Obama, the lone black in the U.S. Senate, told ABC's ``Good Morning America'' Monday that he has still not made a decision on whether he will launch a bid for his party's nomination.

``It's only been three or four days,'' the Illionis Democrat said, referring to his announcement last week that he's considering a bid. ``I need a little bit more time than that.''

Meanwhile, Clinton _ widely considered the party's front-runner _ told a Monday breakfast gathering hosted by the Association for a Better New York: ``I will look at the possibilities, but I ... haven't really had the time to talk to people about it.''

Democratic Sen. Joe Biden reaffirmed his intention to seek his party's nomination, though an announcement about establishing an exploratory committee probably will not come until early next year.

The campaign lost one possible participant over the weekend when Russ Feingold, a Democratic senator from Wisconsin, decided against a long-shot run.

The anticipated wide-open campaign will be the first since 1928 without a sitting president or vice president in the mix of candidates. (In 1952, Harry Truman opted not to seek re-election, but didn't officially drop out until after he was defeated in the New Hampshire primary. His vice president, Alben Barkley, sought the nomination, but later dropped out.)

Bush has served two terms and Vice President Dick Cheney has made it clear he won't run.

McCain, considered the front-runner for his party's presidential nomination, said he could create an exploratory committee as early as this week, but won't make a final decision about running until early next year.

``Are we doing the things organizationally and legally that need to be done? Yes,'' he said. ``There are certain things legally you have to comply with in order to continue to raise money and set up an organization.''

``The important thing is we will not make a decision until I sit down with my family, but we will be prepared,'' McCain said.

GOP officials last week said McCain would set up an exploratory committee and has opened a bank account for the committee.

On Sunday, McCain characterized the moves as preliminary until he decides over the holidays about a possible bid. He unsuccessfully sought his party's nomination for president in 2000.

If McCain were to run, he would turn 72 on Aug. 29, 2008, at the height of the campaign. Only Ronald Reagan was older _ 73 at the start of his second term. McCain's health also could be an issue; he has had several cancerous lesions removed from his skin.

McCain is a former Navy pilot who was a prisoner of war in Vietnam. He was elected to the Senate in 1986, and served in the House for four years before that.

During the 2006 election cycle, McCain attended 346 events and raised more than $10.5 million on behalf of Republican candidates. He also donated nearly $1.5 million to federal, state and county parties.

The 63-year-old Biden, who is line to take over as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, also ran for president before, leaving the 1988 race after it became known he had lifted a portion of a speech from a British politician without attribution.

Biden, first elected to the Senate in 1972, said Sunday he would address the issue of an exploratory committee early in 2007.

One potential challenger he will not have to contend with is Feingold, who said he wanted to focus on his work in the Senate. Feingold, 53, is an outspoken opponent of the Iraq war, the Patriot Act and other Bush administration policies.

``I never got to the point where I felt strongly I wanted to run,'' Feingold told The Associated Press. ``Then I saw the result Tuesday and thought what a great opportunity to do my work in the Senate.''

Last week, Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack announced his candidacy, becoming the first Democrat to do so.

Others mentioned include Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, the 2004 nominee; former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, the vice presidential nominee two years ago; Evan Bayh of Indiana and Christopher Dodd of Connecticut; and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson.

Republicans talked about for 2008 are Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney; Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee; Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

GOP Rep. Duncan Hunter of California, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said last month he is forming an exploratory committee.

McCain appeared on NBC's ``Meet the Press,'' Dean was on ``Fox News Sunday'' and Biden spoke on ``This Week'' on ABC.