Gephardt Quits Race, Says He Has ‘No Alibis’

Times Staff Writer

Richard A. Gephardt, the candidate who found a resonant message but apparently not enough money, withdrew from the Democratic presidential race Monday just seven weeks after his victory in Iowa had thrust him into front-runner status.

In the interim, he had suffered a string of devastating losses in both the North and the South, capped by a distant third-place finish in the Michigan caucuses Saturday.

The 47-year-old Missouri congressman, currently the fourth-highest ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives, said he now plans to seek reelection to his House seat from St. Louis.


‘Didn’t Get Enough Votes’

At an emotional press conference here attended by more than 100 supporters and campaign aides, Gephardt, who began his marathon campaign in Iowa in 1985, bowed out gracefully and with a touch of humor. He said he had “no alibis,” explaining that he lost because “I didn’t get enough votes.”

“It’s been said that the opera isn’t over until the fat lady sings,” Gephardt said. “Last Saturday in Michigan, I think I heard her walking to the microphone.”

Gephardt’s withdrawal put the Rev. Jesse Jackson just ahead of Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis in the Associated Press delegate count.

Most of the delegates won by Gephardt--154 by the campaign’s count--were shifted into the uncommitted category with his withdrawal. But in Missouri, which Gephardt won during the Super Tuesday voting earlier this month, party rules mandate that the at-large and public official delegates be divided among the active candidates when a contender drops out. That gave Jackson at least six more delegates.

Jackson now has 606.55, Dukakis 605.55, Tennessee Sen. Albert Gore Jr. 362.8, Illinois Sen. Paul Simon 168.5 and uncommitted 515.6, according to the AP count.

Gephardt said he has no current plans to endorse another candidate, but he said that he “reserves the right” to do so later.


Gephardt had hoped to revive his lagging campaign in Michigan with a tough trade message threatening retaliation if other nations did not open their markets. It seemed tailor-made for the depressed auto state. But his campaign--already badly battered by his massive losses on Super Tuesday--was overwhelmed by the Jackson landslide.

Some observers had expected Gephardt to “suspend” his campaign rather than officially end it to hold onto his delegates and remain a factor at the party’s convention in Atlanta. But “I’m ending my candidacy today,” Gephardt said, adding that the delegates currently committed to him are now free to switch to other candidates if they like.

Key Support in Three States

Most of Gephardt’s delegates are concentrated in the three states in which he won primaries or caucuses--Iowa, South Dakota and Missouri--as well as other states where he gained at least modest support, including New Hampshire and Oklahoma.

In their post-mortems on the failed campaign, Gephardt and his top aides agreed that his candidacy fell apart mainly because Gephardt did not have enough money to get his populist message on trade and agriculture across during the crucial Super Tuesday contests March 8.

Before Super Tuesday, Gephardt looked like the likely nominee to many party leaders. He had won Iowa, had come in second in New Hampshire and seemed to be the only candidate with a theme and a media campaign that was appealing to the voters.

The ultimate Washington insider, Gephardt had mastered a passionate, populist speaking style in the closing months of the Iowa campaign, and he was hammering away on the need for tougher trade and farm policies to protect American workers and farmers. His approach--stressing the theme of “it’s your fight, too”--seemed to be working.


Heavily Outspent in South

Although Gephardt was able to raise about $9 million and spent $10 million during his campaign, he was heavily outspent in the South on Super Tuesday by both Dukakis and Gore, who blanketed the airwaves with piercingly negative commercials that tagged Gephardt as a flip-flopper on the issues and a tool of special interests.

Gephardt had little money left from his $1-million Super Tuesday media budget to respond in an election that spanned 20 states.

In addition, after New Hampshire, his campaign seemed almost aimless. He failed to concentrate his limited resources in the few states in the region where he did have a chance. In the end, he won only his home state of Missouri on Super Tuesday.

“This is a function of money, for the most part,” insisted Dick Moe, a political consultant for Gephardt. “Once the roof fell in on Super Tuesday, it was very difficult to bounce back in Michigan. The voters there saw it as a two-man race between Dukakis and Jackson.”

Gephardt told his aides on Sunday that he was still stunned that he had been beaten for lack of funds despite raising $9 million. “As Dick said yesterday, the notion that you raise $8 to $10 million in the primaries and it’s not enough is unbelievable,” said Bob Shrum, Gephardt’s media adviser.

“If you had told me three years ago, when this campaign started, that raising $8 or $9 million wouldn’t make you competitive, I would have said you were crazy,” added Rep. Mike Synar (D-Okla.), a longtime Gephardt supporter.


Assail Press Coverage

Synar and other supporters are also bitter over what they view as the heavily negative press coverage Gephardt’s campaign received. “You all (the media) never let the real Dick Gephardt get out,” Synar said. “You all did him in. The message that Dick tried to advance got derailed because the press had this myopic view and compressed what he was trying to say into one word--protectionism.”

But Gephardt refused to blame the press for his failure Monday. “By and large, I think the press has been fair to Dick Gephardt,” he said. “I didn’t like every article that was written but I’m not supposed to.”

Gephardt, who spent more time in Iowa than any other candidate and moved his entire staff there in the closing weeks to pull out a victory, said Monday that he believes Iowa is still the right place to start, even though it drained him of the resources he needed to fight on later.

“I think there are a lot of reasons why I did not ultimately succeed, and I just don’t think Iowa is a part of that,” he said.