ST. LOUIS — Dick Gephardt, the former House Democratic leader and 14-term congressman, said Tuesday he was abandoning his second bid for the presidency after a poor, fourth-place showing in the Iowa caucuses.
“I gave this campaign everything I had in me,” Gephardt told a news conference, his voice breaking at times. “Today, my pursuit of the presidency has reached its end. I’m withdrawing as a candidate and returning to private life after a long time in the warm light of public service.”
Gephardt said he would serve out his final year in Congress and would continue to work for universal health care coverage, pension reform, energy independence and a trade policy that “doesn’t sacrifice American jobs.”
His decision left seven candidates vying for the Democratic nomination. In bowing out, the Missouri congressman did not endorse any of his rivals.
Gephardt, who turns 63 at the end of the month, said he looked forward to spending more time with his family.
In 1988, Gephardt won Iowa in his first unsuccessful bid for the Democratic nomination. On Monday, despite a strong field organization and union endorsements, Gephardt finished fourth in Iowa, behind John Kerry, John Edwards and Howard Dean.
Backed by almost two dozen labor unions, Gephardt went into Iowa with high expectations, but labor turnout was down. In 2000, a third of the voters were from union households. This year, fewer than one-fourth of caucus-goers were from labor, according to entrance polls conducted for The Associated Press and the television networks by Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International.
Gephardt’s poor performance in Iowa was expected to create new interest among the Democratic presidential rivals in his home state of Missouri’s Feb. 3 presidential primary, where the winner could capture 74 pledged delegates.
Gephardt remains on the ballot — the deadline for withdrawal was Dec. 23 — and Missouri Gov. Bob Holden said in a telephone interview that he and other Gephardt followers were waiting to see which of the other candidates Gephardt prefers, if any.
Gephardt’s return to St. Louis pointed to the 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.
As Democratic majority leader in the House in 1994, he became the head of a shocked minority after a Republican landslide gave the GOP 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.
“This didn’t come out the way we wanted,” Gephardt said after the caucus results were tallied. “But I’ve been through tougher fights in my life. When I watched my 2-year old son fight terminal cancer and win, it puts everything into perspective.”