WASHINGTON -- Sen. Paul Wellstone of Minnesota announced yesterday that he would not seek the presidency in 2000, further shrinking the field of Democratic contenders.
Although Wellstone had been considered a long shot, and he viewed his candidacy as a low-budget crusade to press for liberal, populist causes, he drew enthusiastic responses from audiences in Iowa and other battleground states. At the very least, he would have been an irritant to the two more established candidates who are preparing to run, Vice President Al Gore and former Sen. Bill Bradley of New Jersey.
Wellstone, who in April was the first Democrat to set up an exploratory committee and who has been traveling the country seeking support since early 1997, said he had intended to run but changed his mind because of severe back problems.
He said that he recently ruptured a disc in his lower back and that it had become too painful for him to follow a grueling travel schedule as a presidential candidate and serve in the Senate. He would face re-election to a third term in 2002.
"I could not maintain the blistering pace of national travel, meetings, speaking and organizing that a presidential campaign requires for almost two years," Wellstone, who is 54, said in remarks at the Minnesota Capitol in St. Paul.
He said that he has a long history of "painful but manageable back troubles" since his days as a college wrestler but that they were aggravated by the ruptured disc.
Wellstone said he would not endorse another candidate now, but he expressed enthusiasm for Bradley and also said he would welcome an entry into the contest by the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson. Wellstone ran Jackson's presidential campaign in Minnesota in 1988.
Wellstone's announcement follows one by Sen. Bob Kerrey of Nebraska, who said he too would not seek the Democratic nomination. Advisers to Rep. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri, the minority leader, said it was increasingly unlikely that he would run, now that the Democrats stand an improved chance of winning back the House in 2000 and he would be a leading candidate for speaker.
Wellstone said he believed Gore is vulnerable and that he was "feeling glum" about his decision but saw no alternative. "I'm pretty disappointed about this," he said. "I wanted to do it."
Pub Date: 1/10/99