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Hart walks away from 2004 race

Spokesman: 'Mechanics' don't interest former senator

From John Mercurio and Robert Yoon
CNN Political Unit

Gary Hart is 'not going away' even if he doesn't run for president, a spokesman said.
Gary Hart is 'not going away' even if he doesn't run for president, a spokesman said.

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Former Colorado Sen. Gary Hart, a one-time front-runner for the 1988 Democratic presidential nomination, bows out of the 2004 primary. CNN's Bruce Morton reports (May 8)
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Former Colorado Sen. Gary Hart, a one-time front-runner for the 1988 Democratic presidential nomination, ended his four-month flirtation with another presidential race Tuesday, bowing out of the crowded 2004 primary because he said he couldn't muster enthusiasm for the "mechanics" of a campaign.

Hart, 66, an attorney and author who served in the Senate from 1975 to 1987 and ran for president in 1984 and 1988, said in January that he was considering another run for the White House, and that the nation under President Bush remains "dangerously vulnerable" to new terrorist threats.

Since then, Hart has been advocating increased spending on domestic security and promoting increased vigilance against terrorism in appearances across the country. He came to the debate having served as chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations task force on national security, which predicted in January 2001 that the United States was vulnerable to a significant terrorist strike.

Spokesman Jack Sparks said Hart decided recently that he could not devote the time and energy needed to conduct a campaign. Although aides said Hart seriously considered getting into the race, he had hired no full-time campaign staff other than Sparks and had raised little money.

"He still holds a great deal of enthusiasm for the substance of politics and the debating of issues. But he holds less enthusiasm for the mechanics of what politics has become, the emphasis on fund raising and polling," Sparks said Tuesday.

"He feels that he can have a strong national voice, even if he doesn't enter this race, and can continue to challenge the president, and our party, on issues he cares about ... He's not going away," Sparks said.

Hart also has acknowledged that he would have faced renewed grilling from political reporters, who he said tend to focus on candidates' private lives even more aggressively than they did during his 1988 campaign. Hart was forced to quit that race in 1987 after photographers caught him cavorting with model Donna Rice aboard a boat called "Monkey Business."

Hart and his wife, Lee, remain married. They live in Colorado.

Hart announced his decision in an interview with The Associated Press and was planning to speak Tuesday evening with reporters from two Colorado newspapers. He then planned to leave for a previously scheduled weeklong business trip to Italy.

He had not spoken with Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe or any of the other Democratic candidates in the race, but Sparks said he would try to do so before leaving the country.

Other Democrats said Hart could have been a strong candidate. Erik Smith, a spokesman for former House minority leader Richard Gephardt, said Hart "certainly would have added a great deal to the race and to the debate."

Jano Cabrera, a spokesman for Sen. Joe Lieberman, said Hart would have been an "important voice" had he decided to run.

Hart announced his decision the day that Florida Sen. Bob Graham officially launched his presidential campaign and three days after all nine Democrats held their first televised debate. (Full story)

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