By MARY DALRYMPLE, AP
WASHINGTON (Nov. 16) - Sen. John Kerry, who has $45 million left from his record-breaking Democratic campaign, hinted on Tuesday that he may try again for the presidency.
On his first workday back in the Senate since losing his White House bid, Kerry remained far from the spotlight, granting interviews to hometown reporters and joining the depleted corps of Democrats as they elected the party's new Senate leaders.
In his first extensive interview since his Nov. 2 defeat, Kerry was asked by the Fox News affiliate in Boston about running again in 2008 and reminded the questioner that Ohio is still counting votes from 2004.
He then said, "It is so premature to be thinking about something that far down the road. What I've said is I'm not opening any doors, I'm not shutting any doors." Kerry added, "If there's a next time, we'll do a better job. We'll see."
Reflecting on his loss, Kerry said he was not sitting around thinking about it. "You've got to go on," he said. "Do I find it some mark of failure or distress, the answer is no."
The former presidential nominee described himself as a "fighter," and added, "I can envision a lot of years of fight ahead of me."
In an interview with WCVB-TV, Kerry said, "Fifty-thousand votes - we'd be in a different place, having a different conversation," a reference to Ohio, which decided the race.
The Democrats have no clear front-runner for the 2008 nomination. Kerry has a distinct financial advantage over any rival based on his fund raising.
Kerry had roughly $45 million left in his primary campaign fund as of mid-October and could use that as seed money for another presidential bid. In addition, he had about $7 million on hand in a legal and accounting compliance fund that he could use for legal expenses in a 2008 campaign.
Because Kerry accepted full public financing for the general election phase of this year's race, he will have to give any of that money that remains back to the government.
During his day in the Senate, Kerry's colleagues thanked him, congratulated him and wished him well.
"Every time his name was mentioned, there was enthusiastic applause. Literally, every time his name was mentioned," said Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich.
Democrats met in a closed-door session to choose their leadership team for next year in what is certain to be an uphill struggle for the party. Not only did Democrats lose their second straight presidential election on Nov. 2, but the Republicans increased their numbers in the Senate and the House.
In January, the GOP will control 55 Senate seats to 44 for the Democrats with one Democratic-leaning independent.
Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., a former vice presidential candidate who lost in 2000 and a one-time presidential aspirant who fell short in the 2004 primaries, spoke from experience in offering Kerry words of support.
"He has a lot to be proud of, and I hope he'll find what I did - that it was great to have the U.S. Senate to come back to," Lieberman said.
Senators predicted that Kerry would find an expanded role as he eased back into his old job.
"Obviously, he brings some experience, and people are interested in what he has to say," said Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., pointing out that nearly half the country, if not quite enough to elect him president, voted for Kerry. President Bush received 60.5 million votes to Kerry's 57.1 million.
Kerry didn't make any remarks on the Senate's pending legislation nor did he deliver any speeches at the Democrats' meetings. He met privately with Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., the former Minority leader who, like Kerry, lost on Nov. 2. Kerry also thanked other Democrats one-by-one for their support.
Kerry got a two-minute standing ovation from his staff, whom he thanked for giving "your heart, your soul and even your vacation time," one aide said.
The day belonged to another Democrat, Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, the party's newly elected leader. Questioned on a range of issues as he assumed the job, Reid predicted that Kerry will find a role, pointing to the four-term senator's past work on banking and foreign policy issues.
"Senator Kerry is not a shrinking violet," Reid said. "We are looking for John Kerry to find what he wants to do. We are sorry that he's not in the White House, but we're glad that he's back on Capitol Hill."
Kerry also met with his policy staff to talk about health care, energy and other legislation that might build on themes from his campaign.
Not since George McGovern lost a bid for the presidency in 1972 has a senator returned to the Senate as a defeated presidential candidate, according to the Senate Historical Office.
11/16/04 18:26 EST
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