WASHINGTON (AP) - Republican Sen. John McCain edged closer to a 2008 White House run and Democrat Russ Feingold took himself out as would-be candidates began positioning for a wide-open race to succeed President Bush.
The end of the congressional midterm election traditionally marks the start of the presidential campaign season, and several prospective nominees wasted no time signaling their inclinations.
McCain, R-Ariz., said Sunday he was taking the initial steps for a White House bid, setting up a committee that allows a potential candidate to raise money and travel the country to gauge support.
Democratic Sen. Joe Biden reaffirmed his intention to seek his party's nomination, though an announcement about establishing an exploratory committee probably will not come until early next year.
And the campaign lost one possible participant when Feingold, a Democratic senator from Wisconsin, decided against a long-shot run.
The anticipated wide-open campaign will be the first since 1928 without a sitting president or vice president in the mix of candidates. Bush has served two terms and Vice President Dick Cheney has made it clear he won't run.
McCain, considered the front-runner for his party's presidential nomination, said he could create an exploratory committee as early as this week, but won't make a final decision about running until early next year.
"Are we doing the things organizationally and legally that need to be done? Yes," he said. "There are certain things legally you have to comply with in order to continue to raise money and set up an organization."
"The important thing is we will not make a decision until I sit down with my family, but we will be prepared," McCain said.
GOP officials last week said McCain would set up an exploratory committee and has opened a bank account for the committee.
On Sunday, McCain characterized the moves as preliminary until he decides over the holidays about a possible bid. He unsuccessfully sought his party's nomination for president in 2000.
If McCain were to run, he would turn 72 on Aug. 29, 2008, at the height of the campaign. Only Ronald Reagan was older - 73 at the start of his second term. McCain's health also could be an issue; he has had several cancerous lesions removed from his skin.
McCain was elected to the Senate in 1986, and served in the House for four years before that.
During the 2006 election cycle, McCain attended 346 events and raised more than $10.5 million on behalf of Republican candidates.