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Frist abandons presidential bid for '08
Scripps Howard News Service


November 30, 2006
Thursday PM

WASHINGTON -- Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a heart transplant surgeon and Tennessee senator, will not seek the presidency in 2008, he announced Wednesday.

"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," he said in a statement released Wednesday. "I do not intend to run for president in 2008."




Frist was a popular figure when he came to Washington after 20 years as a transplant surgeon. Stories of how he rushed to treat a gunman who shot two Capitol police officers in 1998, later tended to victims in a South Florida car accident and regularly treated heart patients in the Sudan, raised his stature.

But the bruising way he captured the Senate Majority Leader post when Republicans regained the majority in 2002, and his leadership of the Senate since, helped tarnish his image. There's no question, however, that he worked hard, as midnight watchers of C-SPAN could often see him shepherding legislation on the Senate floor.

It's clear, too, that he has been all but running for the 2008 GOP nod for some time. Besides visits to Iowa and New Hampshire, which hold the earliest partisan contests, Federal Election Commission records show that his leadership political action committee, VolunteerPAC, raised $7.5 million and spent $8.2 million in the most recent two-year election cycle. It has just $289,445 on hand in the latest reporting period.

Despite his lofty early reputation, in the run-up to the 2006 midterm elections he was occasionally lampooned for the championing a host of culture war issues - the defense of marriage, flag burning, the English-language Pledge of Allegiance - even as huge national problems went unaddressed.

In a statement released Wednesday, Frist said:

"The people of Tennessee elected me twice to the U. S. Senate, and I was humbled and honored by their support and every day I did my best to serve them with integrity and common sense.

"Twelve years ago, I pledged to the people of Tennessee that I would serve two terms in the Senate - to serve as a true citizen legislator - and then return home. I said I'd come to the Senate with 20 years experience in healing, spend 12 years serving in Washington, then go right back to Tennessee to live where I grew up. I've never deviated from that commitment. And I will do just that."

A Quinnipiac University poll of likely presidential contenders, released Tuesday, showed Frist ranked 18th out of 20 candidates, ahead of 2004 Democratic nominee John Kerry but behind former Vice President Al Gore, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and far behind former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Arizona Sen. John McCain.

Frist lost the enthusiastic support of some powerful social conservatives with his stand on embryonic stem cell research, Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, said earlier this year.

Tennessee Republican Party chairman Bob Davis said he was pleased with Frist's service and noted he is keeping a promise to remain in the Senate for just two terms.

"He's a young man and the sky's the limit for him," said Davis. "I doubt we've seen the last of Bill Frist."

In his statement, Frist was vague about his immediate future after his successor, former Chattanooga mayor Bob Corker, R-Tenn., takes office in January. But in an e-mail message to VolPAC supporters Wednesday, Frist said he will continue to support Republican candidates and conduct a series of policy "summits" on energy dependence and healthcare, indicating he's going to stay active in politics.

Frist said he will also return to his medical roots. "In the short term, I will resume my regular medical mission trips as a doctor around the world to serve those in poverty, in famine and in civil war. I will continue to be a strong voice to fix what is broken in our health care system and to address the issues of clean water and public health globally. We will stay actively engaged in policy issues affecting the lives of Americans."

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