Presidential Damage Control by Bob Kerrey? Probably Not

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Former senator Bob Kerrey

Just when it seemed there were no news bombshells anymore, Bob Kerrey and the New York Times came up with a doozy.

Wednesday, the Times rushed to put up its Sunday magazine cover story on the paper's web site; the article, detailing a nightmarish night during former Nebraska senator Bob Kerrey's tour of duty in Vietnam, confirmed days of pre-publication buzz. In the eight-page account, Kerrey, a reluctant but potent war hero (he earned a Bronze Star and a Medal of Honor) and perennial Democratic presidential favorite, is among several veterans who recount a deadly raid on a Vietnamese village that left 13 unarmed civilians, mostly women and children, dead. Kerrey led the SEAL commando team involved.

While exact details of the raid — and Kerrey's precise role in the killing — remain sketchy, Kerrey's story has the potential to reverberate through the Democratic establishment: One of his party's least understood but best-liked statesmen, Kerrey left Washington last year to take the helm of the New School University in Manhattan. But some maintained it was only a matter of time before he returned to the political stage.

And that speculation, of course, breeds another line of debate: In finally telling his story about that night in Vietnam, has Kerrey hurt or helped any prospective presidential run?

According to TIME senior national affairs correspondent Karen Tumulty, who spoke with Thursday morning, politics don't seem to have played a role in Kerrey's decision.

"Kerrey hasn't been doing anything that would indicate he's considering a run in 2004," says Tumulty. "In fact, he's made it pretty clear that by leaving Washington and moving to New York, he's looking to start a new life.

"I covered his campaign in 1992," Tumulty added, "and Kerrey has never been comfortable using his war record for political gain — even against Bill Clinton, where it could have been a major asset.

"Kerrey has always been a very introspective kind of politician, not at all calculating, and I really believe that he decided to tell his story because it was coming out in bits and pieces anyway, and he just wanted to set the record straight."