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"Powell was always authentically reluctant to get into the race," notes chief politics and investigations editor John Stacks. "The first thing he did was rule out the independent run because it was impractical -- there was no real structure in place for an independent candidacy. He found himself in closer agreement with the Republican Party, but on close examination he found that the party nomination was no slam dunk, and he backed away. This is consistent with the way he's operated in public life, the way he operated in Desert Storm and in Bosnia. He was reluctant to take on a fight he wasn't certain he could win." In talks with TIME in June and September, Stacks notes that Powell was highly conscious of the need to make a clear decision before the election season advanced too far: "In a lot of ways he was freezing the race; a lot of people were waiting to see what he would do. He couldn't let the indecision go on much longer." NO FIRE THIS TIME: