- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 14, 2003

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and 29 fellow Democrats yesterday endorsed Rep. Richard A. Gephardt for president in a show of support that some of his campaign rivals dismissed as a meaningless “Washington insiders” event.

Joined by Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland and virtually the entire House Democratic leadership at a news conference here, Mrs. Pelosi said the 14-term Missouri congressman was “a man of principle and courage who understands the aspirations of everyday Americans.”

“I can’t think of a better endorsement than people who have worked with me on a daily basis, in some cases for 25 years,” Mr. Gephardt said. “Nobody knows more about me as a leader than they do.”

But most of his major opponents for the nomination said that for someone who was the party’s leader for eight years, the number of endorsements he has received is relatively unimpressive. Mr. Gephardt stepped down last year when the Democrats lost control of the House.

A spokesman for candidate Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, who has six congressional supporters from his home state, said the 30 endorsements were “well below the 60 or more [Mr. Gephardt] had when he first ran for president in 1988.” A campaign operative in another camp said the reduction in endorsements showed that Mr. Gephardt’s support in the party has dimmed because of his failure to win back the House in the 2002 elections.

“He’s the only presidential candidate who served in the House leadership, so it’s hardly surprising that he would have support from his colleagues in the leadership,” said a senior adviser to another candidate. “But this contest will be decided by the voters on who is the strongest leader and, in so far as his handling of the 2002 elections goes, he doesn’t have that strong a record.”

“If he wants to run a Washington insiders campaign of endorsements, feel free. Members of Congress from California can’t vote in the Iowa and New Hampshire primaries,” said Sen. Bob Graham’s campaign spokesman, Jamal Simmons. “The endorsements we want are the people on the ground.”

In response to Mr. Gephardt’s announcement, Sen. Joe Lieberman’s campaign yesterday reissued a partial list of the endorsements he has received, which includes those of a dozen House and Senate members and more than 70 state elected officials from across the country.

“We are proud of the support we have from our colleagues in the House, but that can only be a part of what will be a successful campaign,” said Mr. Lieberman’s campaign spokesman, Jano Cabrera.

Mr. Gephardt’s endorsements included those of nine deputy and assistant party whips and 15 ranking committee and subcommittee members.

Mr. Hoyer, who holds the No. 2 Democratic position in the House, said Mr. Gephardt was “uniquely qualified to lead our party — and win — in a head-to-head contest with George W. Bush.”

But Mr. Gephardt failed to deliver on his promise to return the Democrats to majority rule in the House, and some party strategists say that after nearly 30 years in Congress, most rank-and-file Democratic lawmakers are looking for a new face to lead the party in elections next year.

Still, Mr. Gephardt’s support has increased from 19 percent to 25 percent in the Iowa caucuses, leaving his rivals far behind in that state, according to pollster John Zogby. But he trails in New Hampshire far behind Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean.

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