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Ex-governor seeking presidency again

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Lamar Alexander, fighting in the shadows of front-running GOP stars, declared his presidential candidacy Tuesday by urging Republicans to look beyond familiar names. He belittled fellow Tennessean Al Gore on the Democratic side as President Clinton's "faithful assistant."

"This time the race is wide open," he said, pressing Republicans not to commit too early to George W. Bush or Elizabeth Dole. "There is no one whose 'turn' it is," Alexander said.Four years ago, it was Bob Dole's turn to win the Republican nomination -- after Alexander finished a strong third in the Iowa caucuses and a whisper behind the second-place Dole in the New Hampshire primary.

Promising better schools, higher family incomes and a stronger military, the former Tennessee governor said on Tuesday, "I am here this morning to declare that I will be a candidate for president of the United States. I am ready to help our country face the challenges of a new century."

He suggested that Bush, the Texas governor and early GOP favorite, is not as ready.

"The new president should be someone who wants it, someone who is well prepared for the job and someone who knows from the first day that he or she is in office exactly what they will do," said Alexander, a former education secretary who has been running for president since the day he dropped out of the race in 1996.

He didn't mention Bush by name, but aides said the Texas governor was the main target of his remarks.

Alexander, 58, also blasted Clinton and "his faithful assistant," Vice President Gore, the most likely Democratic nominee. "They have given us what their polls show them, but that's not leadership," he said.

The Clinton-Gore "magic show" has disguised failing schools, bigger bureaucracies, weakening national defense and deepening racial polarization, Alexander said.

"Our standards of right and wrong have sunk to a new low," he said. The first president of the 21st century must lay "a moral foundation." He did not refer directly to the Monica Lewinsky inquiry or any other specific moral problem.

Alexander, who took over as Tennessee governor in 1979 from a scandal-ridden administration, delivered his speech in the state Capitol's old Supreme Court room. Several hundred well-wishers filled the tiny room, their applause echoing off the chamber's marble walls.

He is to be endorsed Wednesday by Tennessee's GOP senators, Bill Frist and Fred Thompson.

Alexander, who announced his candidacy last time wearing a bright plaid shirt, wore a business suit this year.