U.S. Senator Russ Feingold, D-Wisconsin, who many progressive activists had encouraged to seek the Democratic nomination for the presidency in 2008, has decided against making the race.

In a letter to be sent to supporters on Sunday, Feingold writes, “I want you to know that I’ve decided to continue my role as Wisconsin’s Junior Senator in the U.S. Senate and not to seek the Democratic nomination for President in 2008.”

Feingold, the sole senator to oppose the Patriot Act in 2001 and the first senator to advocate a timeline for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, stoked speculation about a possible presidential run during the 2006 congressional campaign season. His call for the censure of President Bush for authorizing warrantless wiretapping was wildly popular with party activists — even if most of his fellow Democratic senators shunned the move. Feingold’s addresses to state party conventions and campaign events across the country were well received. And he began to develop the infrastructure for a candidacy by setting up a new campaign group, the Progressive Patriots Fund, which aided candidates around the country who shared his anti-war and pro-civil liberties positions.

But Feingold was always torn between the lure of a presidential run and his love of the Senate, where he has served since 1993.

The Wisconsinite, who has spent most of his Senate career serving as a member of the minority party, decided after Tuesday’s decision by the voters to shift control of the chamber to the Democrats that he was more interested in making the Congress work than in spending a year or more on the campaign trail in New Hampshire, Iowa and other early primary and caucus states.

“I’m sure a campaign for President would have been a great adventure and helpful in advancing a progressive agenda. At this time, however, I believe I can best advance that progressive agenda as a Senator with significant seniority in the new Senate serving on the Foreign Relations, Intelligence, Judiciary and Budget Committees,” the senator explained. “Although I have given it a lot of thought, I cannot muster the same enthusiasm for a race for President while I am trying simultaneously to advance our agenda in the Senate. In other words, if I really wanted to run for President, regardless of the odds or other possible candidates, I would do so. However, to put my family and all of my friends and supporters through such a process without having a very strong desire to run, seems inappropriate to me. And, yes, while I would strongly prefer that our nominee in 2008 be someone who had the judgment to oppose the Iraq war from the beginning, I am prepared to work as hard as I can through the Progressive Patriots Fund, and consistent with my duties in the Senate, to maintain or increase our gains from November 7 in the Congress and, of course, to elect a Democrat as President in 2008.”

Feingold’s decision gives a boost to the all-but-certain candidacy of former North Carolina Senator John Edwards, the 2004 Democratic nominee for vice president, who has positioned himself to the left of the current field. Of course, if Illinois Senator Barack Obama decides to run, he could well eclipse Edwards as the choice of progressives who worry about handing the nomination to the presumed frontrunner, centrist New York Senator Hillary Clinton.

Last week, another centrist, outgoing Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack launched an exploratory bid for the Democratic nod. Vilsack’s move was seen by some as narrowing the options for Democrats, such as Feingold, who might have hoped to jumpstart an outsider campaign with a strong showing in Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses. But Feingold had developed as much support in New Hampshire, the traditional first-primary state, where anti-war candidates ran especially well on Tuesday.

In the end, Feingold came to the conclusion that the enthusiasm he detected as he visited states across the country in 2006 had more to do with the boldness of his progressive positions than with his own potential candidacy.

“(While) I’ve certainly enjoyed the repeated comments or buttons saying, ‘Run Russ Run,’ or ‘Russ in ’08,’ I often felt that if a piece of Wisconsin swiss cheese had taken the same positions I’ve taken, it would have elicited the same standing ovations,” mused Feingold. “This is because the hunger for progressive change we feel is obviously not about me but about the desire for a genuinely different Democratic Party that is ready to begin to reverse the 25 years of growing extremism we have endured.”


John Nichols’ new book, THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders’ Cure for Royalism is being published this month by The New Press. “With The Genius of Impeachment,” writes David Swanson, co-founder of the AfterDowningStreet.org coalition, “John Nichols has produced a masterpiece that should be required reading in every high school and college in the United States.” Studs Terkel says: “Never within my nonagenarian memory has the case for impeachment of Bush and his equally crooked confederates been so clearly and fervently offered as John Nichols has done in this book. They are after all our public SERVANTS who have rifled our savings, bled our young, and challenged our sanity. As Tom Paine said 200 years ago to another George, a royal tramp: ‘Bugger off!’ So should we say today. John Nichols has given us the history, the language and the arguments we will need to do so.” The Genius of Impeachment can be found at independent bookstores and at www.amazon.com