Richard Gephardt

by Kathleen Gronnerud

Independent Scholar

Source: The New York Times

Source: The New York Times

Democrat Richard “Dick” Gephardt (1941-present) formally announced his second candidacy for U.S. president on February 19, 2003.  First elected to Congress in 1976, Gephardt served 28 years in the House and garnered much influence within the Democratic Party.  He served as House majority leader from 1989 to 1995 and minority leader from 1995-2003.  As a House freshman, Gephardt was named to both the Ways and Means and Budget Committees.  He served as chairman of the House Democratic Caucus from 1985-1989.

When Gephardt threw his hat in the presidential ring in early 2003, he joined a wide field of Democrats seeking the party’s nomination after presumed frontrunners Al Gore and Tom Daschle decided not to run.  By fall 2003 ten Democratic candidates had officially entered the race.1  Once Gephardt filed the necessary paperwork to form an exploratory committee in January 2003, his campaign set-up headquarters in Washington and released an initial website touting Gephardt’s dedication to working class families, health care for all Americans, and a return to economic fairness.  Gephardt staked his second run for the presidency on a strong showing in the Iowa caucuses scheduled for January 19, 2004.  He named Steve Murphy, the man who had engineered his 1988 victory in the Iowa caucuses, as his national campaign manager.

Gephardt announced his candidacy for president in February 2003 at the elementary school he had attended in his native St. Louis.  His remarks denoted his working class background and strong ties to organized labor: “The fight for working families is in my bones.  It’s where I come from; it’s been my life’s work.”  He called for policies to bolster sagging employment rates and encourage economic growth.  Gephardt described the campaign as “a contest of ideas,” and contrasted his against those of incumbent President George W. Bush.  Widely respected within the ranks of the Democratic Party, Gephardt stood a strong chance of clinching the nomination if the party chose to favor a known politician with a traditional message.2  He had national name-recognition and had long been a loyal standard-bearer for liberal social and tax policies, as well as a prominent fundraiser for party candidates. (Although he had also helped write the resolution that authorized the invasion of Iraq and announced he would not pursue a continued leadership position in the House after his party’s weak mid-term election results.)  As he remarked, “I’m not going to say what’s fashionable in our politics — that I’m a Washington outsider . . . that I have no experience in the highest levels of government. I do, and I think experience matters.”3 Gephardt had a potential advantage over some of the Democratic field in what has been dubbed the money primary, which had emerged with the extended nominating process in the 1990s. Gephardt was one of five announced Democratic contenders in the race as of January 2003 with his own pre-candidacy PAC, which raised nearly $14 million before January 2004 and the Iowa caucuses.4

Gephardt led in three Iowa public polls released in October 2003 by Zogby, SurveyUSA and KCCI-TV/Research 2000 with Vermont’s Governor Howard Dean running a close second.5 In January 2004, CNN reported that the first poll of the year, the Independent Research 2000 Iowa Poll, found Gephardt with 25 percent of the vote among those polled and Dean with 29 percent.6 Dean attacked Gephardt for supporting President Bush’s use of military force in Iraq.  Gephardt’s campaign manager claimed that a Dean staff member contacted the Gephardt camp to confess that Dean’s team was sending non-Iowans across the state to illegally participate in local caucuses—an accusation Dean Campaign Manager Joe Trippi called “ridiculous on its face.”7 Gephardt’s strategy in Iowa increasingly appeared to involve playing to the unique feature of a caucus that allowed supporters of any non-viable candidate (any candidate with less than 15 percent support) to remain in the room and throw their vote to another candidate.  To achieve this, the Gephardt campaign became increasingly less pro-Gephardt and more anti-Dean, with the aim of presenting him “as the candidate for Democrats seeking to nominate someone besides Dean.”8  The most obvious targets were Iowans who favored General Wesley Clark or Senator Joe Lieberman, but supporters of Senators John Kerry and John Edwards were potential targets as well.

When the Iowa results came in, Gephardt finished a disappointing fourth with only 11 percent of the vote.  That night, on stage with his wife, Jane, and their three adult children, Gephardt told supporters, “While my campaign to fight for the working people may be coming to an end tonight,” Democrats would reclaim the White House, “Because we have to.”9  He promised to give his full support to whomever the party selected as its presidential candidate.

In February 2004, Gephardt endorsed John Kerry—winner of the Iowa caucuses—after Kerry’s victory in the Michigan primary.  In June, the New York Times interviewed Gephardt about speculation that Kerry might ask him to run as vice president.  Gephardt, who days before had attended a private session with Kerry, portrayed the coming general election as “the most important election of our lifetime.”10  After thirteen consecutive terms in Congress, Dick Gephardt retired from public service in January 2005.  Since then, he has served as chief executive officer and president of Gephardt Group LLC, as well as a consultant, advisor or board member to numerous companies and nonprofit organizations.

1Michael Goff.  Money Primary: The New Politics of the Early Presidential Nominating Process.  (Latham, Maryland: Rowan & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2004), xx.

2Paul West, “Gephardt Positions Himself for 2004 Presidential Run,” The Baltimore Sun.  October 2, 2002.  Accessed on April 20, 2014.  Swarns, Rachel L.  “The 2004 Campaign: The Congressman; For Gephardt, Campaign is Lonely, Unlike 1988,” The New York Times. January 17, 2004.  Accessed on April 20, 2014.

3Richard Gephardt. Announcement of Presidential Candidacy Mason Elementary School St. Louis, MO.  February, 19, 2003.  Accessed on April 20, 2014.

4Goff, Money Primary, xx.

5Ostermeier, Eric.  “Iowa Democratic Caucus Time Capsule: October 2003.” University of Minnesota, Humphrey School of Public Affairs.  October 4, 2007.  Accessed on August 30, 2014.

6“Gephardt, Dean Trade Barbs about Nasty Campaign Tactics.”  January 8, 2004.  Accessed on April 20, 2014.


8Schaller, Thomas F.  “Gephardt’s Plan to ‘Win’ Iowa,” The Boston Globe.  January 10, 2004.  Accessed on April 20, 2014.

9Richard Gephardt.  Gephardt Concession Speech.  January 19, 2004.  Accessed on April 20, 2014.

10Carl Hulse.  “The 2004 Campaign: The No. 2 Spot; At a Fork in the Gephardt’s Path, A Job Interview of Sorts,” New York Times, June 18, 2004.  Accessed on April 20, 2014.