Gephardt Snags 30 Endorsements

Posted May 14, 2003 at 6:36pm

Former Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.) set the floor for House support of his presidential bid Wednesday, making clear he intends to have a larger share of endorsements than the 30 he rolled out.

Gephardt allies acknowledged that the long-anticipated list, which was headlined by Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), was smaller than the 50 Members the Missouri lawmaker had set as his initial goal. But his allies stressed that he will easily reach the higher mark in the coming months.

Rolling out the first round of endorsements at Capitol Hill’s Phoenix Park Hotel, Gephardt himself was ebullient about his support.

“There are more signing on than are here today,” he said. “This is the start, not the end. I’m confident we’ll have great support.”

And while some Democratic strategists took note of the fact that veteran Members like Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) were not at the event, Gephardt advisers noted that some lawmakers prefer to deliver endorsements in their home states, rather than being lumped in at a D.C. event.

Rep. William Lacy Clay (D-Mo.), Gephardt’s national co-chairman, said the 30 Members on the list are prominent members of the Caucus — and he vowed that more will come.

“It was a good reflection of his wide swath of support,” said Clay. “It looked like America.”

Clay added, “I think you will see a good number from all different parts of the country and different caucuses. This was the beginning, and just a start of what will be a long campaign.”

Several Democratic aides, however, questioned why the former Minority Leader could not capture more than 30 names right out of the gate.

“It shouldn’t take very long to get core support that is more impressive than just 30 Members,” said one senior aide. “Downplay it all you want, there is pressure on him. If he can’t deliver a large section of his Caucus, that would ultimately be embarrassing.”

Earlier this spring, Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) unveiled 11 House Members backing his bid. Two of Lieberman’s backers, Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) and Ellen Tauscher (D-Calif.), were part of Gephardt’s kitchen cabinet.

Gephardt has been working over Members for months and will continue to do so, campaign advisers said.

Future endorsements will be unveiled on conference calls or in Members’ individual states, rather than at group events. Advisers also noted that the need for Members will not heat up until later in the year, when surrogates are critical in key states.

Gephardt said he recognizes the importance of gathering Member support, given that they serve as super-delegates to the Democratic National Convention and can help rally backing from other voters in their districts.

“It will be a full range of things,” Gephardt said. “You can’t have better people than this. They know how to do it, and they do it well.”

Pelosi has already said she will not have much time to stump for her predecessor because of her focus on trying to win back control of the House. But other Members said they are ready to hit the trail.

Hoyer said he will send out letters today to Democratic elected officials, party leaders and activists in his district to let them know of his endorsement and to help solicit backing for Gephardt.

“All the things you asked about, I’m sure I’ll do all of them,” he said in reference to fundraising and stumping across the country for Gephardt.

Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.) has already held one fundraiser and plans to hold another one in a couple of weeks.

“He’s probably going to end up pulling more money out of my state than I am,” said Kennedy, former chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Rep. John Tanner (D-Tenn.), a conservative Blue Dog, said he too will do whatever is asked. He noted that even though he and Gephardt don’t always see eye to eye on policy, his colleague is “a decent, honest, competent, dedicated individual who wants to serve this country.”

“I’ll certainly talk to people and will help the campaign raise money,” Tanner added. “I’ll help do what every campaign does.”