Gore says he won't run in 2004
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Former Vice President Al Gore, the Democratic nominee for president in 2000, said Sunday he would not seek the party's nomination in 2004.
"I personally have the energy and drive and ambition to make another campaign, but I don't think it's the right thing for me to do," Gore told CBS's "60 Minutes."
"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 that I think all campaigns have to be about."
Referring to the 2000 presidential race in which he won the popular vote but lost to Bush by five Electoral College votes, Gore said, "The last campaign was an extremely difficult one."
The race dragged on for weeks after Election Day and was ultimately decided by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on Florida election procedures.
"I think that there are a lot of people within the Democratic Party who felt exhausted by that, who felt like, 'OK, I don't want to go through that again.' And I'm frankly sensitive to that feeling," Gore said.
Gore said he does not expect ever to run for president. "I've run for president twice, and there are many other exciting ways to serve," he said.
Gore said he will support whoever the Democratic nominee is in 2004. Despite Bush's popularity, he said, a Democrat can win the 2004 presidential election, but the key is to keep the focus on the economy.
"My family all gathered here in New York City over the last few days, and I found that I've come to closure on this," Gore said.
Former President Clinton issued a statement calling Gore "the best vice president America ever had."
"Even though he will not be a candidate this time around, I know he will still be in the running when it comes to speaking up for America's working families and making a positive difference for our country," Clinton wrote.
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-New York, also released a statement: "America is a better place today because of Al Gore's energy and ideas, and I know that he will continue to make a valuable contribution to our nation."
The news followed a series of public statements and appearances Gore has made in recent weeks in which he often criticized the Bush administration and talked about the direction he believes the country should take.
On Saturday, he hosted NBC's "Saturday Night Live," poking fun at himself and other lawmakers.
Many Democrats expected Gore to run for the presidency. He was favored to win the Democratic nomination and maintains strong nationwide support -- particularly from some who point out he won the popular vote in 2000.
Still, getting a nomination would not have been a cakewalk. Many Democrats were disappointed with his performance as a candidate in 2000 and felt other candidates would have a better shot at winning bipartisan support in an election.
Massachusetts Democratic Sen. John Kerry has an exploratory committee and is actively campaigning for support and money.
"I know this was a very difficult and personal decision for Al Gore and his family and I respect the choice he has made. We all owe Al enormous gratitude for years of dedicated and exemplary public service and for his significant contributions to our party and country," Kerry said in a statement Sunday.
"I look forward to working with him in every way possible to strengthen the country and fight for the principles we share and for the interests of working people across the nation."
Gov. Howard Dean of Vermont officially declared in the spring that he was running. "What it does is make sure there's no front-runner," Dean said after learning of Gore's decision.
Rep. Richard Gephardt, D-Missouri, is likely to be the next big-name Democrat to enter the race. Gephardt has been busy calling key Democrats in early states and putting together a campaign organization.
"Al has defined himself as someone who identifies problems before anyone else and offers solutions while others are still mulling the question," Gephardt said in a statement Sunday. "The hallmark of his career has been his talent to navigate great public policy challenges guided by a sharp intellect and a big heart."
Without Gore's participation in the race, Gephardt said, the Democratic primary process loses "a strong voice and an accomplished leader."
Top advisers say Gephardt is planning to run and will make his intentions known either late this month or in early January.
Sens. Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota, and John Edwards, D-North Carolina, also are exploring the possibility of seeking the nomination.
Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Connecticut, Gore's running mate in 2000, has said he is considering pursuing the presidency. Lieberman had said he would not run if Gore did.
Gore's adviser told CNN that Gore planned to call Lieberman to inform him personally of his decision.
"With Gore out of the race, I'd put the chances that Joe Lieberman will run at about 99.5 percent. And I'm being conservative," a Lieberman aide told CNN.
CNN Correspondents John King and Dana Bash contributed to this report.