RAY SUAREZ: On the night before he took himself out of the 2004 race, Al Gore campaigned for laughs on "Saturday Night Live".
AL GORE: You know, the good news about not being President is that I have my weekends free. The bad news is that my weekdays are also free.
RAY SUAREZ: The timing of this announcement the next day on CBS caught even some of his close associates by surprise. They had expected a decision after the holidays.
AL GORE: And while I have the energy and drive to go out there and do it again, I think that there are a lot of people within the Democratic Party who felt exhausted by that, who felt like, okay, I don't want to go through that again, and I'm frankly sensitive to that, to that feeling.
RAY SUAREZ: This afternoon, on a book tour stop in Raleigh, North Carolina, the former Vice President explained his thinking.
AL GORE: This past week, I was in New York City all week long, rehearsing for "Saturday Night Live". And I was surrounded by my family as they began to gather to come in for the show, and I found myself during the week in between rehearsals beginning to engage in the conversations that I had anticipated having over the Christmas holidays. And as the week wore on, I began to feel that I was getting nearer to closure with my decision on whether to be a candidate or not. And because a race this time around would have focused on a Bush-Gore rematch, I felt that focus of that race would inevitably have been more on the past than it should have been, when all races ought to be focused on the future.
RAY SUAREZ: The year 2000 Democratic candidate left the field, even as he led the early polls for the Democratic ticket in 2004. So his departure leaves the race wide open. So far, only Vermont Governor Howard Dean has formally entered the race. But Massachusetts Senator John Kerry has already laid the groundwork for fund raising. He spoke today in Boston.
SEN. JOHN KERRY: I think all of us in the Democratic Party and everybody in the country respects enormously his contribution to our country, certainly we do to our party. And I'm absolutely confident beyond any doubt that Al Gore is going to continue to contribute significantly to the politics and the discussion of our country.
RAY SUAREZ: Fellow Senator Joe Lieberman could be next in. This morning in Washington he said that if gore were out, he'd probably be in.
SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN: As a member of the House of Representatives, of the Senate of the United States, as Vice President, he provided unique and constructive leadership in a host of areas from national security to economic growth, from environmental protection to governmental efficiency.
RAY SUAREZ: Before long, other Senators could join the race, including the chamber's top Democrat, Tom Daschle, and John Edwards of North Carolina. Richard Gephardt who just stepped down as top Democrat in the House, is also mentioned, as is civil rights leader Al Sharpton. Today Mr. Gore commented on the emerging field.
AL GORE: I'll probably endorse someone. I don't know for sure, but I probably will. And I have communicated directly with Senator Edwards and Senator Lieberman and Senator Kerry, and each of them has asked for my support, and I'm very grateful for that. And, you know, bear in mind it's not just my support. I'm very influential with my wife and children, and take it from me, a half dozen votes could make all the difference in a Presidential race.
RAY SUAREZ: Al Gore said he will probably never run again for President.