Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley announced Tuesday that he will not run for president in 2020, saying he believes his best work will come from being re-elected as Oregon's junior senator for a third term.
Merkley, a Portland Democrat, has been publicly mulling a presidential run for months, but in a video released March 5, Merkley said he has opted to stay out of the already crowded race for the Democratic ticket, instead focusing on a re-election campaign to the U.S. senate.
Under Oregon law, Merkley, 62, would have to choose between running for president and running for the senate, not both. The senator received lukewarm response from state lawmakers about changing that law earlier this year.
Several prominent Democrats have already announced their plans to run for the presidency, including several of Merkley's colleagues in the Senate, including Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Corey Booker and Kamala Harris. Fellow Pacific Northwest politician and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee joined the fray last week and former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper announced his bid Monday.
In his March 5 video, Merkley said voters are in "a battle for the soul of our nation," facing "privileged and powerful" opponents who have "rigged our politics and our economy."
American values are under attack on three fronts, Merkley said.
The first is a crisis of democracy, he said. "Gerrymandering, voter suppression and dark money (are) corrupting our ability to elect a government by and for the people," Merkley said.
The second is a crisis from climate change, which has afflicted forests, farms and fisheries and impacted livelihoods, Merkley said. The third is a crisis of opportunity. A lack of affordable housing, quality education, access to healthcare and good paying jobs are "strangling the American dream," Merkley said.
"We are way off track, and the future of America hangs in the balance," the senator said, staring into the camera lens during his four-minute video.
Merkley is one of the Senate's more liberal members. He was the only senator to endorse Sanders for President in 2016 against Hillary Clinton. Merkley is a co-sponsor of bills to enact Medicare-for-all and the Green New Deal, both strongly opposed by Republicans.
Political experts said Merkley would have been a longshot candidate had he run, Merkley is not well-known outside of Oregon and would have faced an uphill battle introducing himself to a nation alongside more high profile candidates who have been campaigning for months.
Merkley has been a tireless opponent of President Donald Trump, drawing headlines after he visited detention centers along the Mexican border to decry the president's policy of separating migrant children from their parents when they enter the country.
Merkley also protested the appointment of Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2017, filibustering for 15 hours to speak out against the nomination.
Merkley said both the White House and the U.S. Senate will need strong leadership to address issues facing the nation.
"I believe there are Democrats now in the presidential race who are speaking to the importance of tackling the big challenges we face," Merkley said. "What I'm also sure of is that, right now, the Senate is not prepared to be a full partner in this fight. My best contribution is to run for re-election and do all I can to help the senate be a full partner in addressing the challenges before us."
While he won't be running for president, Merkley will still be involved in the race, he said, helping to endorse a candidate he says will be able to stand up "to very powerful opponents."
Who that candidate will be isn't clear. Despite endorsing Sanders three years ago, Merkley has said In interviews he will evaluate all the candidates in the race before making a decision.
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