House Minority Leader Won’t Stump for Gephardt

Posted May 9, 2003 at 6:17pm

Rep. Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.) will unveil the House backers of his presidential bid this week, but his centerpiece endorsement — from Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) — will largely be in name only.

Highly placed sources in the Democratic Caucus said Gephardt is still trying to round out his rollout list, which will be announced either Wednesday or Thursday. The former Minority Leader made a rare appearance in the House late last week, voting on the key tax bill and working over more Members for their support.

Pelosi and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), both of whom have yet to publicly endorse Gephardt, will headline the endorsement event.

Pelosi said last week that any endorsement of hers would have to be in name only and not backed by active campaigning for her colleague, given her busy schedule running the House and looking to put her party back into the majority in 2004. She said of her endorsement, “by and large it will be my name.”

“My night job is to win back the House for the Democrats,” she said. “Any fundraising I do will be for the House Democrats, and any travel I do will be for House Democrats.”

“Clearly I don’t have enough hours in the day to take care of my own responsibilities, much less reach out for others,” she added.

Pelosi also said the reason she hasn’t yet endorsed a candidate is not because she is undecided, but rather because she has been incredibly busy. Now, she said, she has some time to focus on politics.

Hoyer, on the other hand, is expected to be a more active member of Gephardt’s campaign team and likely will go on the trail for the Missouri lawmaker, sources have said. Hoyer and Gephardt are longtime friends.

One Gephardt adviser said that regardless of the time Pelosi devotes to the campaign, her predecessor as leader would be honored to have her backing.

“It’s all individually based,” said the aide. “Different people can do different things.

“Obviously, Leader Pelosi has a huge responsibility on her shoulders in terms of running the House and running the Democratic Caucus in the House. I’d be surprised if she had time [to devote to Gephardt’s cause], and no one understands that better than Dick Gephardt.”

Gephardt, who led the Democrats for eight years, has been soliciting support for some months, but just recently stepped up his effort with an eye toward making an announcement of House backers. Pelosi has long been considered the plum endorsement, given her stature in Congress, fundraising abilities and California connections.

“She’s a big deal,” the Gephardt adviser said. “I assume any candidate would want her endorsement whether she’s spending 5 percent of her time helping you or 95 percent helping you.”

Gephardt allies have said the former leader’s rollout will be ongoing, noting that he will continue to build on his House Member support long after the initial unveiling this week. Sources said Gephardt had wanted his endorsement list to be some 50 Members strong, but that he will likely fall short of that mark.