WASHINGTON - Republican Sen. John McCain said Sunday he is taking the initial steps for a White House bid in 2008, setting up a committee that allows a potential candidate to raise money and travel the country to gauge support.
Democratic Sen. Joe Biden reaffirmed his intention to seek his party’s nomination, though an announcement about establishing an exploratory committee probably will not come until early next year.
The anticipated wide-open campaign — for the first time since the 1928 race, the field will not include a sitting president or vice president — lost one possible participant when Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., decided against a long-shot run.
McCain, R-Ariz., said he is moving toward a 2008 bid by “doing things organizationally and legally” but will not make a final decision until early next year.
McCain, considered the front-runner for his party’s presidential nomination, said he could create an exploratory committee as early as this week.
“Are we doing the things organizationally and legally that need to be done? Yes,” he said. “There are certain things legally you have to comply with in order to continue to raise money and set up an organization.”
“The important thing is we will not make a decision until I sit down with my family, but we will be prepared,” McCain said.
GOP officials last week said McCain would set up an exploratory committee and has opened a bank account for the committee.
On Sunday, McCain characterized the moves as preliminary until he decides over the holidays about a possible bid. He unsuccessfully sought his party’s nomination for president in 2000.
If McCain were to run, he would turn 72 on Aug. 29, 2008, at the height of the campaign. Only Ronald Reagan was older — 73 at the start of his second term. McCain’s health also could be an issue because he has had several cancerous lesions removed from his skin.
McCain is a former Navy pilot who was a prisoner of war in Vietnam. He was elected to the Senate in 1986, and served in the House for four years before that.
During the 2006 election cycle, McCain attended 346 events and raised more than $10.5 million for Republican candidates. He also donated nearly $1.5 million to federal, state and county parties.
The 63-year-old Biden, who is in line to take over as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, also ran for president before, dropping from the 1988 race after it became known he had lifted a portion of a speech from a British politician without attribution.
Biden, first elected to the Senate in 1972, said Sunday he would address the issue of an exploratory committee early in 2007. “I still plan on running. I haven’t, quite frankly, thought through all of the ... mechanics of it at this point in terms of when to announce setting up an exploratory committee, but I plan on doing that,” he said.
One potential challenger he will not have to contend with is Feingold, who said he wanted to focus on his work in the Senate. Feingold, 53, is an outspoken opponent of the Iraq war, the Patriot Act and other Bush administration policies.
“I never got to the point where I felt strongly I wanted to run,” Feingold told The Associated Press. “Then I saw the result Tuesday and thought what a great opportunity to do my work in the Senate.”
Last week, Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack announced his candidacy. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York is widely considered the front-runner.
Others mentioned include Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, the 2004 nominee; former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, the vice presidential nominee two years ago; Sens. Barack Obama of Illinois, Evan Bayh of Indiana and Christopher Dodd of Connecticut; and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson.
Obama, the lone black senator, “has done an enormous amount for the party,” said Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean, adding that in his job he must stay “entirely neutral.”
Republicans talked about for 2008 are Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney; Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee; Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
GOP Rep. Duncan Hunter of California, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said last month he is forming an exploratory committee.
McCain appeared on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Dean was on “Fox News Sunday” and Biden spoke on “This Week” on ABC.