Rep. Dick Gephardt joined the special series, ‘Hardball: Battle for the White House.’ Nov. 3, Monday, 7 p.m. ET
If Dick Gephardt were an animal, his campaign staff says he’d be a tortoise versus hare-like Howard Dean - slow and steady wins the race, and the nomination. Gephardt prefers to think of himself as a long distance runner: “It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon,” he tells voters. Both of these comparisons attempt to turn Gephardt weaknesses — he’s sometimes outwardly bland and traditional — into strengths - dependable, steady, reliable, able to go the distance.
With 27 years in Congress, Gephardt is a familiar face on the political scene. It’s a lifetime of experience as a Washington insider that last played well in 1984, when Walter Mondale won the Democratic nomination in another wide-open race. Gephardt was elected in 1994 to serve as House Democratic leader, the top-ranking Democrat in the United States House of Representatives. “House Democrats’ hopes for a political comeback now seem to be hung on Missouri’s Richard Gephardt,” wrote USA Today in November of that year. Those hopes were never fulfilled. Several who supported Gephardt’s 1988 presidential bid now cite his failure to win back a Democratic majority in the Congress as a key reason they’re not backing him now.
His decision to side with President Bush and vote for the war resolution has also not played well among some of his fellow Democrats. Rep. Jim McDermott, (D-Wash.), a sharp critic of the resolution, said Gephardt “has not made [Iraq] a leadership point. He basically abdicated the role.” Gephardt staffers say Iraq policy is not a partisan issue, with many Democrats, including fellow presidential candidates Sens. Joseph Lieberman and John Kerry having voted in favor of using force, and some Republicans questioning that course of action.
Gephardt’s years of relentlessly waving the union banner high in Congress has won him key support from union groups. Gephardt would like to be considered the labor candidate, and to date has the endorsement of 20 international unions. Despite his loyalty, Gephardt does not have the labor vote sewn up. The Service Employees International Union, the largest union in the AFL-CIO, has said that it will endorse Howard Dean or no one at all, and another large union, AFSCME, says its highest priority is electability, not loyalty.
Gephardt says in his stump speech that the focus of his presidency will be “jobs, jobs, and jobs.” His healthcare plan is his means to those jobs. It’s called Matt’s Plan after his son who was diagnosed with cancer when he was just 18 months old. The Congressman says Matt survived only because they had health insurance that covered experimental treatments. Gephardt argues his plan will provide nearly universal coverage, create badly needed jobs, and also help the economy, by pumping $280 billion back into the system in the form of health insurance. His health plan is also more expensive by far than any of those proposed by his rivals.
That’s an issue he’s going to have to address during his appearance on Hardball with Chris Matthews. He’ll also be taken to task on his decision to use force in Iraq. As this is a college forum, he’ll likely be asked about his plans for connecting with the youth vote. Gephardt has systematically sought older voters, the people who make an overwhelming percentage of Iowa caucus-goers, and rarely gone out of his way to reach younger voters.
Does Dick Gephardt have what it takes to be the last man standing? Chris Matthews goes one-on-one with Dick Gephardt, Monday, Nov. 3, 7 p.m. ET
The Institute of Politics at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government hosts the ‘Battle for the White House’ series. The audience, which will be comprised mostly of local college students, will also ask questions of the candidates. Admittance to these forums will require a ticket. While most tickets will be distributed to Harvard and other local college students, some tickets will be reserved for the general public. Instructions for obtaining tickets will be available on the IOP website.