Washington Prowler

Locked Out of His Own House

Starting with the woman who replaced him, Dick Gephardt can't make any headway winning House Democrat support for his presidential run.

By 4.21.03

Rep. Richard Gephardt, who compared to other Democratic presidential aspirants has been practically invisible, has been putting the heavy push on colleague Rep. Nancy Pelosi for her endorsement of his campaign.

Gephardt, who by stepping down as House Democratic leader late last year allowed Pelosi to move into that position, probably could have elicited a promise of her support back then when it seemed she would face a challenge to the leadership post. But he didn't even try for it.

Now Gephardt, who has seen his competition, most prominently Sen. Joseph Lieberman, locking up endorsements from House members for the past month, is struggling to get Pelosi's support. She isn't making it easy.

Before heading home to St. Louis for the spring recess, Gephardt attempted to meet with Pelosi, only to be put off. Why? "She was meeting with Howard Dean," says a Pelosi staffer.

Dean is also running for president and, unlike Gephardt, is an ideological soulmate of the far-left leaning Pelosi. The House leader has thus far declined to comment on the meeting with Dean, but Dean and his people are far more willing.

"She wouldn't commit to an endorsement, but she's sharing her fundraising list for California with us and she promised to keep talking," says a Dean staffer. "This is a huge break for us. Frankly, we're surprised she's been left available."

It isn't for lack of trying. Gephardt did finally get in to see Pelosi, but left with nothing but a handshake and thank you for dropping by. "Aside from her power as leader of the party in the House, she understands she has real influence in steering House endorsements to the presidential candidates," says the Pelosi staffer. "It is a power thing and she didn't get here by not understanding it. And she's not going to piss it away just because Gephardt helped her get it. He'd be doing the same thing in the same position."

Gephardt, though, is clearly feeling the pressure. Lieberman and John Kerry especially have been seeking early commitments from House members, in part, because of the fundraising help they can provide at the state and local level. Lieberman has been burning lots of dollars on his organization and needs that kind of help. For Gephardt, it's less about the money, and more about having his colleagues, many of whom owe him countless political favors, vocally supporting his candidacy.

"If he can't muster the majority of House members at least initially, he's not going to be looking so good," says a Democratic National Committee staffer. "The word is Pelosi isn't going to commit early. The rest of the caucus may follow her lead. That isn't good for Gephardt."

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