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Rep. Richard Gephardt

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Rep. Richard Gephardt
Rep. Richard Gephardt, D-MO, announces his candidacy for president in St. Louis, Mo., Feb. 19, 2003.
Credit: Reuters Limited © 2003

'Gephardt for President' button

Credit: From the collection of Ken Rudin, NPR News

Note: Richard Gephardt announced his withdrawal from the race Jan. 20, 2004.

March 6, 2003 -- NPR's Bob Edwards spoke with Rep. Richard Gephardt (D-MO) as part of an ongoing Morning Edition series of interviews with each of the announced candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination. Below, NPR Political Editor Ken Rudin provides background on the Gephardt candidacy.

Richard Gephardt is not what you would call the "fresh face" in this contest. Not when you've been in Congress over a quarter-century, and not after you already made a run for the White House. His 1988 attempt, which started off successfully with a win in the Iowa caucuses, fizzled soon after, and Gephardt was out of the race following a third-place finish in Michigan.

But perhaps experience -- and not necessarily a "fresh face" -- is what the voters are looking for, given the fact that the nation is thought to be close to waging war against Iraq. At least that's what the Missouri congressman is hoping. In preparing his second presidential bid, Gephardt relinquished his post as House minority leader after the 2002 midterm elections, where Democrats not only failed to regain control, but they lost seats in the process. It was the fourth successive election where House Democrats, led by Gephardt, fell short in capturing a majority of seats… not the sort of campaign send-off Gephardt was looking for.

The 62-year-old congressman retains the affection of many of his House colleagues. He is a decent man with a friendly demeanor. He is thought to be able to tap into the party fundraisers whom he's cultivated during his time in the leadership. He has put together a comprehensive domestic policy agenda, offering specific programs that would roll back much of what President Bush has been fighting for. But he does have some drawbacks.

Gephardt infuriated many in his party when he helped push for the House resolution authorizing the President to wage war against Iraq. This position was contrary to a majority of Democrats in the House, and it is certainly not considered popular in Iowa. In fact, Gephardt is thought to be in a no-win position for Iowa's first-in-the-nation caucuses, scheduled for Jan. 19. Given his victory there in '88, and his wide network of contacts, he is thought to be the early favorite to repeat in 2004. But will anyone care if he wins, since it's expected? What if he wins by an unimpressive margin? And -- most important -- what if he loses Iowa? Will the pundits, the party professionals, and the money people write off his candidacy?

One of Gephardt's key constituencies is thought to be organized labor; he won many union endorsements during his 1988 run, and he's carried labor's water in fighting both the Clinton and Bush administrations on free trade, among other issues. But by all indications, labor looks like it's going to make its decision on whom to support less on past favors and more on who is most likely to unseat Mr. Bush next year. That puts additional pressure on the man from Missouri.

Related NPR Stories

more Jan. 20, 2004: Rep. Richard Gephardt ends his presidential bid a day after placing fourth in the Iowa caucuses.

more Nov. 11, 2003: NPR's Michele Norris talks with Rep. Richard Gephardt about the importance of labor unions and the state of his presidential bid.

more Oct. 31, 2003: Gephardt is campaigning hard in Iowa, a state he won in his unsuccessful bid for president in 1988.

more Sept. 1, 2003: All Things Considered presents an excerpt of Gephardt's stump speech.

more Aug. 9, 2003: NPR's Linda Wertheimer and discusses organized labor's potential endorsement of a Democratic candidate with Andy Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union, the largest single union in the AFL-CIO.

more July 30, 2003: On Day to Day, Slate political columnist Will Saletan translates Gephardt's favorite buzzwords.

more Feb. 19, 2003: Gephardt officially announces he's running for president. Hear an All Things Considered report.

more Jan. 31, 2003: Listen to a Tavis Smiley Show interview with Gephardt about his presidential campaign.

more Nov. 7, 2002: Gephardt steps down as House Democratic leader.

more More Morning Edition interviews with the 2004 Democratic presidential candidates

Web Resources

  • Rep. Richard Gephardt's 2004 presidential campaign Web site.

  • Gephardt's House Web site.