Frist pulls out of race for Republican nomination

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The battle to replace George Bush in the White House claimed another high-profile victim yesterday as Bill Frist, the outgoing Senate majority leader, announced he would not seek the Republican nomination but return to his previous medical career.

Mr Frist, a heart surgeon by training who has represented Tennessee in the Senate since 1995, had long been planning a run, as champion of the conservative religious wing of the party. But a series of blunders and setbacks, most lately the unexpected loss of the Senate in this month's mid-term elections, had badly dented his prospects.

"In the Bible, God tells us for everything there is a season, and for me, for now, this season of being an elected official has come to a close. I do not intend to run for president in 2008," Mr Frist said.

His decision leaves the Arizona senator John McCain; Rudolph Giuliani, the former mayor of New York, and Mitt Romney, the outgoing governor of Massachusetts, as leading contenders for a wide-open nomination. But it also opens up a clear vacancy on the right, which could lure new candidates. Mr Frist is the second senator this month to rule out a presidential bid, after Russell Feingold of Wisconsin said he would not seek the Democratic nomination. Earlier Mark Warner, the former governor of Virginia once seen as the most potent rival to Hillary Clinton, also bowed out.

But Barack Obama, the 45-year-old first-term Illinois senator and the hottest Democratic property, is sending signs that he plans a bid. Next month he and other potential candidates will attend a dinner celebrating the Democratic mid-term sweep in New Hampshire, the bellwether early primary.