WASHINGTON -- Senator John F. Kerry insisted yesterday that his "botched joke" about President Bush's Iraq policy would not undermine a possible White House campaign in 2008.
"Not in the least," the Massachusetts Democrat, his party's presidential nominee in 2004, said when asked if the furor over his comment had caused him to reconsider a 2008 race. "The parlor game of who's up, who's down, today or tomorrow, if I listened to that stuff, I would never have won the nomination."
Kerry, who has not set up an exploratory committee, said he would decide early next year whether to run for president.
Shortly before the Nov. 7 elections that brought Democrats back into power in the House and Senate, Kerry retreated from public view after his remark to a college audience that young people might get "stuck in Iraq" if they do not study hard.
"This was a misstatement. All of us make them in life. You wish you could have it back, but you can't," the senator said yesterday on "Fox News Sunday."
Kerry said he had made the decision to keep a low profile after the White House attacked the joke as insulting to US troops.
One of the Republicans mentioned as a prospective presidential candidate, former House speaker Newt Gingrich, said he would not make a decision until September to focus in the private sector on trade policies.
"We have lots of time for personal ambition," the Georgia Republican said. "And I think an awful lot of this early energy is wasted, and we ought to be focusing on, you know, how are you going to compete with China and India, how are you going to solve the problem in Iraq?"
Speaking on "Fox News Sunday," Gingrich said. Senator John McCain of Arizona and former mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani of New York. Both have set up presidential exploratory committees, were the likely front-runners.
But Gingrich said the conservative wing of the party is yearning for a clearer voice.
"Governor Mitt Romney is working very hard to fill that vacuum, and may well succeed," Gingrich said. "Senator McCain would like to find a way to fill that vacuum, and is working very hard at it."
McCain said on ABC's "This Week" that Giuliani was an "American hero" for his leadership in New York after the Sept. 11 attacks. But McCain called himself the best candidate, based on a "record of being a conservative Republican, of knowledge on national security and defense issues."
McCain, who supports a ban on abortion except in cases of rape, incest, and to save a mother's life, said he doubted a constitutional amendment could pass but that one would not be needed because "it's very likely or possible that the Supreme Court should -- could -- overturn Roe v. Wade."
"I'm a federalist," McCain said. "Just as I believe that the issue of gay marriage should be decided by the states, so do I believe that we would be better off by having Roe v. Wade return to the states."
McCain said the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy toward gays was "very effective." He said he opposed gay marriage, but as to civil unions, "people ought to be able to enter into contracts, exchange powers of attorney, other ways that people who have relationships can enter into."