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Gephardt’s departure doesn’t faze Boone County

Wednesday, January 21, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 6:29 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

A day after a poor showing in the Iowa primaries, Dick Gephardt withdrew his bid for the Democratic nomination Tuesday, freezing his Missouri supporters less than three weeks before the state’s primary election.

But in Boone County, where Gephardt led in fund-raising through 2003, some Democrats said they hardly batted an eye. They

didn’t think he would win here in the first place.

“I didn’t know anyone for Gephardt,” said Christy Welliver, vice chairwoman of the Boone County Democratic Central Committee. “I think very many people are not surprised that he dropped out.”

Depending on whom you ask, Gephardt was either a favorite or a longshot to win his own state in the Feb. 3 primary election, but many local Democrats agree he was not favored in Boone County. The 14-term congressman and long-time Democratic party leader in the U.S. House of Representatives was widely visible in his hometown of St. Louis but rarely stopped here to pursue support.

“I don’t think Congressman Gephardt had as much of a following in Columbia as he did in other areas of the state,” said Rep. Vicky Riback Wilson, D-Columbia. “Boone County has always kind of thought for itself.”

Gephardt’s decision leaves the question of where Missouri’s vote will swing in the coming primary election without a hometown candidate to support. Nine candidates continue to vie in the state for the Democratic nomination, and Gephardt has yet to endorse any of them. Longtime supporters such as Gov. Bob Holden have said they will wait to see which candidate Gephardt prefers, if any, before shifting their endorsement.

But that might not matter, said David Webber, an associate professor of political science at MU. Whereas Democratic hopeful Howard Dean, the former governor of Vermont, holds a lot of hometown sway in neighboring New Hampshire, Webber said Gephardt does not command the same regional following here.

“I’d be surprised if people in Kansas City even know who he is,” Webber said. “He was more of a St. Louis politician and a Capitol Hill insider.”

Despite Gephardt’s ho-hum following in most of the state, most Democratic candidates abandoned their Missouri campaigns, assuming Gephardt would take the state by winning St. Louis — or 40 percent of Missouri’s Democratic vote, Webber said. Instead, they chose to campaign in South Carolina, which also has its primary Feb. 3.

Webber said he doesn’t expect that strategy to change now. Except for Dean’s small presence and Dennis Kucinich’s showing at MU, he expects little organized campaigning in Boone County.

“They’ve only got a couple weeks, so they better get moving,” he said.


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