- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 7, 2003

Richard A. Gephardt joined an increasingly crowded field of presidential hopefuls yesterday, filing papers to create an exploratory campaign for the White House.
Of at least five congressional Democrats who are in or about to join the race, Mr. Gephardt is the only one who already has sought the presidency.
He enters the race with tangible advantages. At the end of 2002, he had more than $2.6 million in his re-election treasury, which can be used for a presidential campaign.
He also has a cadre of experienced advisers and a network of activists in Iowa and other key states.
"There's no doubt Gephardt has a good deal of political capital nationwide and influence in the House," said Dave Robertson, a longtime political science professor at the University of Missouri at St. Louis, in Gephardt's hometown. "In terms of organization, he has more political capital now than he did in 1988."
Mr. Gephardt, 61, also has an edge with labor unions, which are influential because they can mobilize hundreds of thousands of votes for a particular candidate. Labor enthusiastically backed Mr. Gephardt in 1988, when he championed union opposition to trade agreements.
But although union leaders have responded warmly to his candidacy this time, the AFL-CIO and other big unions are holding out to see whether he looks like a winner.
"Does labor think that Gephardt is a horse that can make the race? I don't know that they necessarily think that," said Dennis Goldford, who leads the political science department at Iowa's Drake University.
The reason for these doubts has much to do with the Nov. 5 elections, when Mr. Gephardt tried a fourth time to regain the majority and become House speaker. Democrats managed to gain a few seats in 1996, 1998 and 2000, but Republicans strengthened their hold on the House last year, and Mr. Gephardt stepped down as minority leader.
Mr. Gephardt has kept a low profile since Thursday, when a staffer accidentally released notice of the lawmaker's new campaign committee. He issued a three-paragraph statement Saturday, and in his one interview since, Mr. Gephardt told his hometown newspaper that his experience is an asset.
"I've been in the Congress for 25 years," he told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "I've seen every major issue and every major problem. My experience gives me the ability to bring to this campaign some fresh thinking and ideas."
In 1988 Mr. Gephardt won the Iowa caucuses, finished second in New Hampshire, and won South Dakota and his home state of Missouri. But by Super Tuesday, he was out of money and out of the running.
"I've done this, and I know what it is," Mr. Gephardt said. "And I think I have a good chance to get the nomination and to win the presidency."
Some consider his background a liability. In 50 years, the only members of Congress to become president other than John F. Kennedy served as vice president first.
Drake University's Goldford said Mr. Gephardt builds coalitions to pass legislation in the manner of an engineer.
"Not to knock engineers, but for president, people don't want an engineer. They want an architect, somebody who can project a vision," Mr. Goldford said. "Now, can Gephardt develop that capacity? He's never shown it yet."
Mr. Gephardt is speaking in broad terms and says specifics will come later.
In his statement Saturday, he said President Bush is leading the country astray or not at all on national security, the economy, health care, education and energy policy.

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