Rep. Dick Gephardt, whose White House ambitions suffered a telling blow in Iowa, on Tuesday ended his second quest for the White House and said he would return to private life as soon as his current term in Congress expires.
"I gave this campaign everything I had in me," Gephardt said at a news conference, his voice breaking at times. "Today my pursuit of the presidency has reached its end. I'm withdrawing as a candidate and returning to private life after a long time in the warm light of public service."
Gephardt said, however, he would serve out the final year of his 14th term in Congress and would continue to work on behalf of universal health care coverage, pension reform, energy independence and a trade policy that "doesn't sacrifice American jobs."
“The enormous voter turnout showed the great strength and determination for the Democratic Party to reclaim the White House,” he said.
His decision left seven candidates vying for the Democratic nomination.
In 1988, Gephardt won Iowa in his first unsuccessful bid for the Democratic nomination. On Monday, despite a strong field organization and union endorsements, Gephardt finished fourth in Iowa, behind John Kerry, John Edwards and Howard Dean.
Gephardt's withdrawal was widely expected after a speech Monday night in which he acknowledged that the Iowa results “didn’t come out the way we wanted.”
“My campaign to fight for working people may be ending tonight, but our fight will never end,” he said.
Gephardt pledged to support the Democratic nominee “in any way I can,” but officials close to him said he will not endorse any of his rivals soon.
Unions provided backbone of support
Backed by almost two dozen labor unions, Gephardt, who won the caucuses in 1988 but stumbled in primaries that followed, went into Iowa with high expectations.
But labor turnout was down. In 2000 a third of the voters were from union households. This year, fewer than one-fourth of caucus-goers were from labor, according to entrance polls conducted for the Associated Press and the television networks by Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International.
And while Gephardt did better among union households than among most other groups, Kerry had a slight edge, and Edwards and Dean did as well as Gephardt among the labor vote, according to the interviews of 1,665 people entering 50 randomly selected Democratic caucus sites. Results were subject to sampling error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
Gephardt’s poor performance in Iowa was expected to create new interest among the Democratic presidential rivals in Missouri’s Feb. 3 presidential primary, where the winner could capture 74 delegates.
Gephardt and Dean had the strongest organizations in Iowa to turn out supporters — traditionally the key in the complicated caucus system. But Kerry of Massachusetts and Edwards of North Carolina had the momentum in the race’s final week and finished first and second, respectively.
Attained party's pinnacle
His return to St. Louis pointed to the end of a career that took Gephardt to the heights of Democratic politics — but left him without either of the two high positions he sought, the presidency and speaker of the House.
As Democratic majority leader in the House in 1994, he became the head of a shocked minority after a Republican landslide gave the GOP control. He spent the next six years attempting to win back the majority, falling short each time.
He stepped down as Democratic leader after the 2002 midterm elections, in which Republicans gained seats.
Gephardt was a pragmatic politician who campaigned as a man with working-class roots. On the stump, he nearly always mentioned his father, a Teamster milk truck driver, and his mother, a secretary — neither of whom finished high school.
And while he was an experienced political figure that many voters saw as a creature of Washington and Capitol Hill, he argued that he was man with new ideas for running the country.
He campaigned aggressively as an opponent of NAFTA and the China trade deal, arguing that they were responsible for thousands of job losses, often to overseas sweatshops that employed child labor.
He also campaigned to repeal President Bush’s tax cuts and use the money to help extend health care to all Americans. It was a personal, as well as a political issue for him. He called his proposal “Matt’s plan” after his son, who was diagnosed with cancer as a toddler but survived.
‘It puts everything in perspective’
“This didn’t come out the way we wanted,” Gephardt said after the caucus results were tallied. “But I’ve been through tougher fights in my life. When I watched my 2-year old son fight terminal cancer and win, it puts everything into perspective.”
The scene at Gephardt’s Iowa caucus-night party was grim, with backers filing quickly out of a downtown hotel.
Fred Noon, 53, a city public works employee in Des Moines, said he was disappointed. “I just wish people would have turned out better for him,” said Noon, president of the municipal laborers’ Local 353. “I think union members voted for him and not a whole lot of others.”
A survey of Iowans entering their caucuses showed Gephardt got little credit for his experience. Iowans who said experience was a key quality for them chose Kerry by a 4-1 margin.
Only one in 20 Iowans said trade was a top issue.
The survey showed that just 23 percent of caucus-goers were from union households — and Gephardt trailed Kerry in winning their support.