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Thursday, 7 November, 2002, 18:50 GMT
Dick Gephardt: Home issue campaigner
President Bush and Dick Gephardt
Dick Gephardt siding with the president over Iraq
Although Richard 'Dick' Gephardt has decided to step down as the Democratic Party leader in the House of Representatives at the end of the year, it is still possible that he could be a presidential contender in 2004.

Representative Gephardt had been the Democrat House leader since 1989 but in the wake of the losses suffered in Tuesday's vote, members of his own party had called for him to resign.

House seats
Republicans: 227 - up four
Democrats: 204 - down four
Independents: 2

One Democrat member of the House called the elections results an "absolute blowout".

Democrat Harold Ford of Tennessee praised Mr Gephardt as a hard working and passionate party leader but said it was time for "new ideas and new faces".

The conservative representative Martin Frost and the more radical Nancy Pelosi are already in the running to succeed him.

Wrong issues

It was clear as the mid-term election campaign got up steam that Mr Gephardt and the Democrats were fighting on their Republican opponents' terms.

Dick Gephardt would have liked to have campaigned on the economy and the corporate scandals of the Bush presidency.

President George W Bush
President Bush' agenda dominated the elections

Battling as he was to try to overturn a small Republican majority in the House of Representatives, he would have preferred to have been fighting on the ground that traditionally favours the Democrats.

But the continuing resonance of the attacks of 11 September, the momentum for military action against Iraq and Mr Bush's record as president dominated and ensured Republican gains.

In the end, the Democrats were not even able to protect the seats they had and lost four to their opponents - who at the same time won a slim majority in the Senate.

A member of the House of Representatives since 1976 and Democratic leader there since 1989, Dick Gephardt has been described by Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution as a politician who has made no secret of "his strong identification with working-class families pressed for time and money".

Welfare and fairness

His own campaign website makes clear Mr Gephardt's concentration on what are known in America as "pocket-book" issues - the state of the economy and its consequences for ordinary Americans.

The brief biography it presents says he is "a national leader on health care, trade and tax fairness", but makes no mention or foreign or security issues.

A passionate Dick Gephardt
He has been a strong advocate of welfare

It stresses his aim of uniting all members of the House "behind economic, trade and social policies that help America's working families".

As Democratic leader in the House of Representatives, he had been closely involved with President Bush in wording a congressional resolution on Iraq that both met the president's needs and received widespread congressional support.

He has come out broadly in support of action against Saddam Hussein but has done so in a way that implies he has doubts.

In backing the military option, he said: "All of us see this through the glass darkly. I wish I knew enough to know the absolute right thing to do.

"I think I am doing the right thing."

This attitude neither pleased the hawks who wanted a clear commitment to overthrowing Saddam Hussein nor the doves who opposed it - at the beginning of October a group of anti-war protesters held a vigil outside Mr Gephardt's office in St Louis, Missouri.

Close race

Dick Gephardt has represented Missouri in the House of Representatives since 1976 and has been Democratic Leader there since 1989. Then he was majority leader.
Peace protester in Washington
The Iraq issue was high on the election agenda

In 1994, he remained Democratic leader in the House even though the party had lost its majority for the first time in 40 years.

Mr Gephardt ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1988 and 1992, but backed Al Gore in the last race.

In the mid-terms he tried unsuccessfully to find the right ground on which to fight the Republicans by supporting action against Iraq while opposing President Bush over the economy and welfare.

At the beginning of October 2002 he addressed the House to attack the administration's approach to the economy and before the November vote he was gearing up for a fight with it over plans to privatise social security funds.

All meat and drink issues for a blue-collar Democrat, but clearly not vote winners when patriotism and security were the dominant issues.

There is now a question mark over his political future.

He could still run for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004 or, given the blame put on him for the election defeats by some Democrats, opt for a back seat role until the dust settles.

Key races




See also:

07 Nov 02 | Americas
06 Nov 02 | Americas
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