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Jewish World Review Feb. 24, 2003 / 22 Adar I, 5763

Roger Simon

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Gephardt struggling
to be standout


http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | With the original Democratic Presidential Six Pack now having grown to the Crazy Eight and soon to be the Starting Nine, Dick Gephardt thought it was about time he started reminding people that he was running for President.

He has been officially running since last month, but he made his formal announcement Wednesday, when he went back to his grammar school in South St. Louis to speak to a few hundred people gathered on the white, linoleum-tiled floor of the gymnasium at Mason Elementary.

It was 11 months to the day before the Iowa caucuses that will mark the beginning of the 2004 campaign, and there were several reasons Gephardt decided to do his formal announcement so early.

"Democratic voters are at the stage that they have decided George Bush has to go, but they are uninformed about who they will rally around," Edward Reilly, Gephardt's pollster, says his polling has discovered. "They don't know a lot about Gephardt, Lieberman, Kerry and certainly not Edwards. It is important that Gephardt introduces himself to the voters."

There is another reason for the four-state adventure, which started in Missouri, flew the first chartered jet of the campaign to Iowa with about 20 reporters, went on to Manchester, N.H., with about 10 reporters and is scheduled to go to South Carolina with two reporters: Gephardt has not generated much positive news coverage since last fall.

His campaign started under the cloud of the Democratic failure to regain the House last November and has been plagued by a series of news stories saying that a) Gephardt simply must win Iowa next year and b) he might have a hard time doing it.

He has never been the media's candidate of the moment, and generating some upbeat stories would help him not only with potential supporters, but with campaign donors.

So, having rehearsed it three times and using TelePrompTers, Gephardt gave a well-written, 42-minute announcement speech that he delivered in a fine, if not rafter-rattling, style.

The truth is that that the Democratic top-tier of Gephardt, Lieberman, Edwards and Kerry - the Fab Four - all have roughly the same speaking skills: They are not great, they are not bad, and they all suffer from PDD: Passion Deficit Disorder.

Even though taken as a group they have delivered thousands of speeches, giving a Presidential speech is different: The audience expects more. The audience wants to be stirred and moved. They want a little grandeur, a little excitement. They want a rousing candidate to fill them with inspiration.

Gephardt's son, Matt, introduced him to the crowd Wednesday, saying, "He taught us to work hard, to never give up, to be passionate . . . and most of all to do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

The latter point, often called the Golden Rule, is mentioned in many of Gephardt's speeches. But it symbolizes both his strength and his challenge: The Golden Rule is a wonderful thing, and what a fine nation this would be if everybody - or even every President - followed it. But how do you turn it into an exciting political concept?

Well, maybe the answer is that you don't. Maybe exciting is not what the people want these days. Maybe they feel that with terrorism, Iraq and North Korea, their lives are already exciting enough.

"I'm not the political flavor of the month," Gephardt said near the end of his speech, his voice thick with emotion. "I'm not the flashiest candidate around. But the fight for working families is in my bones. It's where I come from; it's been my life's work."

Later, in Des Moines, Gephardt sat down with reporters and put it this way: "Politics in the end is about human relationships. The candidate is the product. If people like you, know you, trust you and believe in you, they will vote for you."

So in the weeks and months ahead, like, know, trust and belief is exactly what Dick Gephardt will be selling.

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