Ashcroft decides not to jump into 2000 race
January 5, 1999
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, January 5) -- Sen. John Ashcroft (R-Missouri), one of the earliest Republicans to test the 2000 presidential waters, announced Tuesday he would not make a bid for the White House and instead concentrate on defending his Senate seat.
"I choose serving Missouri," Ashcroft told a crowd of supporters in Springfield, Missouri.
"It's become apparent to me that devoting the years ahead to pursuing the presidency would substantially impair my ability to place in the right perspective the cornerstones for the future of this great country. And this is not a time for individuals to place ambition above the agenda of the American people," the first-term senator said.
If he decided to seek the GOP presidential nomination, Ashcroft planned to also run for re-election in 2000 so that he could fall back on his Senate campaign if he fared poorly in the early presidential primaries and caucuses.
But sources told CNN that the Missouri senator was worried that a presidential campaign could land his Senate seat in Democratic hands.
Democratic Gov. Mel Carnahan has made it clear he would make the case that any Ashcroft presidential campaign would shortchange the people of Missouri. Senate GOP campaign committee chief Mitch McConnell of Kentucky also has voiced concerns to Ashcroft that a presidential campaign could put the Senate seat at risk.
Ashcroft has been exploring a possible bid since early 1997, spending a lot of time in the key states of Iowa and New Hampshire. In his speech, the Missouri native estimated that he has traveled the equivalent of "a little more than five trips around the world in the last year," visiting many American states to gauge his support.
"Today marks the culmination of a tremendous conversation that Janet (his wife) and I have had with the American people. It's the end of that conversation but for all the heartland conservatives whose cause was our campaign, the faith endures, the fight continues and the future is bright because the best is yet to come," Ashcroft said, vowing to continue to work in Washington for tax reform and preserving the Social Security system.
GOP field already crowded
Even without Ashcroft in the mix, the Republican field for their party's nomination is already getting crowded. New Hampshire Sen. Bob Smith officially formed a presidential campaign committee Monday, and opened a Washington office. Aides say he already has raised $300,000.
And more are expected to come quickly. Gary Bauer has also scheduled an announcement and is expected to say he is leaving the Family Research Council to explore running for president. He would seek to be the standard-bearer of the Christian right.
And others are giving serious consideration to a run. Arizona's maverick senator, John McCain, formed a presidential exploratory committee last week. And Elizabeth Dole stepped down as president of the Red Cross Monday so she would be free to explore the presidential waters.
Polls show Texas Gov. George W. Bush is the front-runner -- even though he's not running -- yet. He says he will not decide until after the Texas legislature finishes its business in the spring.
Former Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander never stopped running after losing in 1996. His nonprofit group has been running ads in Iowa, New Hampshire and several other early contest states. Alexander has kept his campaign team intact, on the payroll of a $4 million political action committee. He could announce he is running for president in a week or two.
Wealthy publisher Steve Forbes never stopped either and is expected to make his candidacy official next month. If he passes up public financing again he will be legally free of any spending limits, a big advantage in a crowded pool.
Former Vice President Dan Quayle has moved to Arizona and assembled a staff there. He passed up the 1996 race when Republican donors showed little interest but everybody figures he is running for sure this time.
CNN's Brooks Jackson and John King contributed to this report.
Tuesday January 5, 1999
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