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Frist rules out 2008 presidential bid

Story Highlights

• Sen. Bill Frist says his time as an elected official "has come to a close"
• The senator plans to return to his roots as a "healer"
• The majority leader did not seek re-election in this month's midterm elections
• Frist has been the subject of an insider-trading probe for more than a year
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Wanting to return to his roots as a "healer," Republican Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said Wednesday that he will not seek the presidency in 2008.

"In the Bible, God tells us for everything there is a season, and for me, for now, this season of being an elected official has come to a close," Frist said in a statement.

Frist, a renowned heart surgeon, said he and his wife, Karyn, were taking "a sabbatical from public life."

"At this point, a return to private life will allow me to return to my professional roots as a healer and to refocus my creative energies on innovative solutions to seemingly insurmountable challenges Americans face."

A source close to Frist told CNN that he made the decision not to seek the presidency because he wants to "reconnect with his passion" in medicine and new innovations.

Frist made the decision over the Thanksgiving holiday when he was home with his family in Tennessee, the source said.

In his statement, Frist said he would resume his medical missions to "serve those in poverty, in famine, and in civil war." He also said he would continue to be involved in public policy issues, particularly efforts to "fix what is broken in our health care system" and the issues of clean water and public health.

Frist had no political experience when he challenged Democratic Sen. Jim Sasser in Tennessee's 1994 Senate campaign. He was swept into office in that year's Republican landslide.

Frist became majority leader four years ago after Sen. Trent Lott, R-Mississippi, was forced to step down after making comments that some viewed as racially insensitive during at a 100th birthday celebration for Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-South Carolina.

Since then, Frist has been viewed as a consistent advocate for the Bush administration's agenda in the Senate. However, that "put him at cross purposes at times with his personal inclination" on various issues, a Republican strategist familiar with Frist's thinking told CNN.

"Taking a sabbatical gives him a chance to reconnect with his roots and bring ideas to the fore" that he really cares about, the strategist said.

In a CNN poll conducted in September, Frist was preferred by only 4 percent of registered Republicans who said they favored him to be the party's nominee in 2008. He was 28 percentage points behind the leading candidate, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani. But the Republican strategist said the fact that Frist was not the obvious frontrunner did not play into his decision.

Rather, the strategist said, Frist's decision was made because "he wants to go home, reconnect with being a doctor and reassess what he accomplished" during his time in Washington.

The strategist disputed the idea that Frist moved certain pieces of legislation to the Senate floor because he was considering a run for president. "To say Frist put 'X' on the floor because he was running for president is wrong. You tell me that Trent Lott or [GOP Senate Whip] Mitch McConnell wouldn't have done the same thing -- that they would've said 'no' to cutting taxes or 'no' to putting flag burning" on the floor, the strategist said. "Frist serves 54 other Republican colleagues."

Frist did not seek a third term in this month's midterm elections.

In 2005, it was reported that the Securities and Exchange Commission had opened an investigation into the sale of HCA stock by the senator. HCA is the giant hospital company founded by Frist's father and brother.

Frist has not been charged with anything related to the sale.

After Democrats trounced the GOP to recapture both houses of Congress, Republicans chose current Senate Majority Whip Mitch McConnell of Kentucky to replace Frist as the party's leader in the Senate.

"Rare is the person who, acknowledged to be the very best in his field, risks leaving it all behind to tackle an entirely new career. But Bill has now done that twice," McConnell said in a statement after Frist announced his decision. "He has already risen to the very top of two difficult professions, and I know that he will similarly excel in whatever field he chooses in the future."

On Thursday, Frist will lead a Senate delegation to Mexico for the inauguration of that country's President-elect Felipe Calderon.

CNN's Andrea Koppel, Ed Henry and Mark Preston contributed to this report.

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Sen. Bill Frist of Tennessee is the most high-profile dropout from the 2008 White House race.



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