The Associated Press
WASHINGTON Ÿ After months of ''prayerful consideration'' that captivated the nation, Colin Powell awkwardly embraced the Republican Party on Wednesday but said he would not run for president in 1996 because it was ''a calling that I do not yet hear.''
Ending an extraordinary political mystery, Powell ruled out seeking any elected office next year. Instead, he said he would dedicate himself to restoring ''the spirit of Lincoln'' to a Republican Party he said was a lot more diverse than many conservatives would admit.
''I'm sorry I disappointed you,'' the retired general said in a poignant tribute to the thousands of everyday Americans who had urged him to run, in person, through letters and by joining draft Powell efforts.
''We're devastated,'' said James Lynch, a New York lawyer involved in the draft effort. Said Tim Bush, an organizer in New Hampshire: ''I think really the country is the loser.''
Such support brought him to the brink of a candidacy, Powell said, but in the end he stepped back from elective politics, for now anyway.
To run for president, he said, would demand ''a passion and commitment that, despite my every effort, I do not have for political life, because such a life requires a calling that I do not yet hear.''
''For me to pretend otherwise would not be honest to myself; it would not be honest to the American people.''
Powell also ruled out being the GOP's vice presidential nominee, but said he might consider an appointed government position. Many Republicans, even Powell critics, said the retired general still was almost certain to be considered for the No. 2 spot on the GOP ticket.
Powell's decision left 10 major declared Republican candidates and one GOP giant still sitting on the fence: House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
Gingrich said anew he was unlikely to run for president, but that he would talk it over with his wife after Republicans finished work on the budget.
As he bowed out of the presidential race, Powell for the first time pledged his political allegiance to a Republican Party, which he said was rightly dedicated to balancing the budget, cutting taxes and shrinking government.
''I believe they have ideas and energy at this time that I can agree with,'' he said.
But he bluntly rebuked prominent conservatives for ''ad hominem'' attacks on his character. He also said the party would be wise to show more compassion as it reforms welfare and to welcome blacks and other minorities.
''I believe I can help the party of Lincoln move once again closer to the spirit of Lincoln,'' he said.
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