In Quest for Presidency, Edwards Won't Seek to Keep Senate Seat

John Edwards (search) will not run for re-election to the Senate in 2004 so he can concentrate on seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, a state party official said Sunday.

The North Carolina senator wrote a letter received Sunday by state Democratic Party chairwoman Barbara Allen announcing his decision, state party executive director Scott Falmlen said.

"I ... decided that I will not seek re-election to the United States Senate in order to devote all of my energy to running for president," Edwards wrote Allen.

Edwards was first elected to the Senate in 1998 but announced in January he would seek the presidential nomination.

North Carolina law allows him to run for president and Senate simultaneously and state Democratic officials were getting restless in recent months while Edwards mulled his decision on whether to run for one or two jobs.

Edwards' five-paragraph letter to Allen resolves that question and lets other Democratic candidates begin building their campaigns.

Edwards wrote that he and his family, on the campaign trail during the Labor Day weekend, took time "to discuss the next step in this journey."

"More than ever, regular North Carolinians and people all over the country need a voice in the White House representing them," he wrote. "The problems that drove me to explore a possible campaign are even more pressing today than they were in January.

"Given all of this, the decision to move forward decisively to seek the nomination was not a difficult one," he said.

"It takes one question out of the way," Falmlen said. "We've said all along the best option .... was for John Edwards to be the presidential nominee" because it will energize party voters, he said.

Rep. Richard Burr (search), R-N.C., already has announced he will run for the Edwards seat and has built up a campaign structure that brought the seat in doubt for the Democrats.

Edwards campaign spokeswoman Jennifer Palmieri said the senator has no plans to step down from his Senate seat before his term ends in January 2005, even if he wins the party presidential nomination next summer.

Former White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles (search), who lost to Elizabeth Dole (search) in the 2002 election, and former state House Speaker Dan Blue, a Democratic primary candidate last year, have expressed interest in Edwards' seat should he not seek re-election.

Bowles didn't discuss his own intentions Sunday night in a prepared statement about Edwards' decision.

"I will support him in any way I can in this effort," Bowles said. "I applaud Senator Edwards for the courage of his decision and for his courage in the endeavor he has undertaken."

With the White House's backing, Burr has raised $1.8 million this year for the Senate race and transferred another $1.7 million from his House campaign account, according to federal election reports.

Republicans hold a slim majority in the Senate but could pad that lead based on the retirements of Democratic Sens. Ernest Hollings of South Carolina and Zell Miller of Georgia.

Edwards is set to formally announce his candidacy next week in Robbins, where he spent his high school years.

The senator has trailed in polls in early Democratic races in Iowa and South Carolina but received good news from a South Carolina survey released last week showing him neck-and-neck with three other candidates in the state where he was born.