Richard A. Gephardt
Since arriving in Washington as a U.S. Representative in 1976, House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.) has been a fast-rising star in the Democratic Party with even higher ambitions toward the presidency. The man from Missouri is known as a fair and adept legislator, having learned to navigate the halls of Capitol Hill when run by both friends and foes.
This year's 1996 election was as bitter as sweet for Gephardt. President Bill Clinton was re-elected and the Democrats chipped away at the Republican hold on the House established two years ago. But the party fell short of taking back the majority, allowing the much-desired speaker's gavel to slip through Gephardt's grasp.
Gephardt ascended quickly through the Democratic ranks during the 1980s. He first gained national prominence as a founding member of the Democratic Leadership Council, a group that worked to dispel the party's too-liberal image. In 1988, At 47, Gephardt made a bid for the White House, winning three state primaries before withdrawing from the race.
Following the resignation of House Speaker Jim Wright in 1989, Gephardt rose to the position of House majority leader. And in 1994, after the election defeat of Speaker Thomas S. Foley, Gephardt assumed the party's top House slot as minority leader in the GOP-controlled 104th Congress.
The Republican rout in that election was a particularly harsh blow to Gephardt. He describes his task of handing the Speaker's gavel over to the Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) as one of the hardest things he's had to do ever. In fact, at the time Gephardt semi-jokingly jerked it back as Gingrich reached out.
Known more as a listener than debater, Gephardt frequently clashed with Gingrich in the 104th Congress, and the two men rarely spoke after the first year. Gephardt made it no secret that he dearly wanted Gingrich's job the next time around.
During the 1996 campaign, Gephardt crusaded to return the House to his party. Characterizing the GOP's "Contract With America" as too uncaring and extreme, Gephardt crafted the Democratic answer, unveiling his party's "Families First" agenda. He spotlighted the plan during his speech at the Democratic National Convention in August.
After Gephardt's mission ended unsuccessfully with Republicans retaining control, albeit with a thinner margin, the House Democratic leader predicted, "It will probably be the closest Congress has been in a long, long, time and all I can say is that the Gingrich revolution is over."
Family values is one of several issues to which Gephardt has devoted his efforts during his ten terms in the House. He has been a leading voice on international trade, on which he based his 1988 presidential campaign. He has also sponsored "fair trade" legislation to toughen the U.S. stance with foreign nations. Gephardt broke ranks with the Clinton Administration over the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), arguing that U.S. workers must be protected.
Political observers believe Gephardt will mount another presidential run in 2000, and he is considered to be one of heir-apparent Vice President Al Gore's strongest opponents. The sometime rivals were elected to the House in the same year.
Updated Jan. 31, 1997
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