Tuesday, January 20, 2004

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Rep. Richard A. Gephardt signaled his withdrawal from the Democratic presidential race last night after a devastating fourth-place finish in the Iowa caucuses.

“My campaign to fight for working people may be ending tonight, but our fight will never end,” Mr. Gephardt said in a post-caucus speech that sounded like a political farewell. Aides said he would formally drop out of the race at a St. Louis news conference at midday tomorrow.

The Missouri lawmaker offered his congratulations to his presidential rivals, and in a campaign concession, said one of them would wind up with the party’s nomination to challenge President Bush this fall.

He pledged he would support the Democratic nominee “in any way I can,” but did not indicate whether he would endorse anyone while the nominating campaign proceeds.

Nor did Mr. Gephardt say whether he intends to serve out his current term in Congress, his 14th and last.

Mr. Gephardt’s intended withdrawal came as no surprise in the wake of the caucus results. He won the event in 1988, when he first ran for the White House, and aides had said openly that he needed to match that showing this year if he were to remain in the race.

Late Iowa returns showed Mr. Gephardt far behind Sens. John Kerry of Massachusetts and John Edwards of North Carolina and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean.

Mr. Gephardt’s Iowa defeat marked the apparent end of a career that took him to the heights of Democratic politics — but left him without either of the two positions he sought, the presidency and speaker of the House.

He was Democratic majority leader in the House in 1994, then became the head of a shocked minority after a Republican landslide shifted the 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.

A favorite of organized labor, Mr. Gephardt went into the Iowa caucuses this year with high expectations. He campaigned as a man with working-class roots, talking frequently about his father, a milk-truck driver and member of the Teamsters union. And while Mr. Gephardt was an experienced Capitol Hill insider, he argued that he was man with new ideas for running the country.

Mr. Gephardt was an outspoken opponent of international trade deals such as the North American Free Trade Agreement, saying they resulted in lower wages for Americans and the transfer of jobs overseas.

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