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Jewish World Review March 10, 2003 / 6 Adar II, 5763

Roger Simon

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Consumer Reports

Dick Gephardt's world | Not long ago, I spoke with Dick Gephardt, longtime congressman from Missouri, who is currently running for the 2004 Democrat presidential nomination. Here is part of that conversation.

Me: At what point did politics become a passion in your life?

Gephardt: When I was 11, I visited my mother's brother's family in Oklahoma for the summer. I spent almost all summer there. They lived on a farm, they had ponies, and it was a wonderful thing to do as a kid.

But in August, I sat in the house in Oklahoma and watched the full gavel-to-gavel Republican and Democratic conventions, Adlai Stevenson and Dwight Eisenhower.

And my aunt, in fact, dubbed me the "Hot House Rose" because I sat in the house while everybody else was out playing with the horses or the ponies or whatever!

I don't know; I can't explain to you why I was interested in it. I have no idea of why it was interesting. I just ... I loved it. I wanted to see all that. I wanted to see the speeches. I wanted to see the delegates vote and all that.

Then flash forward to Northwestern University, 1958-1962. Jack Kennedy's elected, and I was just completely taken with him, with what he said about being in public service. Northwestern's a very Republican school, but I had Democratic friends, and they all said, going into business is not the deal, you need to be in politics. We need you to get into public service.

And Kennedy was a real influence on my life. I mean, just seeing somebody like that who was so well educated, so smart, so dedicated to public service ... that really captured me.

And I ran for student body president at Northwestern and won. And so I got into politics that way. Then I went to Michigan Law School because I wanted to learn the law and I enjoyed practicing law, I practiced for 10 years. But from the minute I came back to St. Louis, I knew I wanted to get into politics.

Me: You think you have a good chance of winning this time?

Gephardt: I've won a lot of elections; I've gotten my message across. I've basically sold myself, which is what you have to do, and I think I can do that. I mean, I've got a staff here that's been with me forever. I've got a wife I've been married to for 36 years.

I have a lot of relationships with people in Iowa and New Hampshire that I didn't have 15 years ago (when he ran for president in 1988). So, I think I can do this, and I think people will like what I'm saying and what I'm doing.

I've had a number of people come up to me in the last year, half year, and a lot of them say to me: "You'd make a good president. I know you can do the job; you would make a terrific president. I just don't know if you can win. But you'd make a good president."

And that gives me confidence cause I believe that. I mean, I believe I can do this job well. And I'm not being arrogant or bragging -- I really know that I can do this.

Me: How do you convince them you can win?

Gephardt: I think that takes care of itself.

Me: By winning?

Gephardt: By winning. I mean, you know, the big thing in this whole primary thing is you just got to win. And I remember when Clinton was having his troubles, people were saying, "Oh, he can't win." And they were writing him off. Well, he overcame that by winning. I think that's the only way to do it. Hanging in there. That's the name of the game.

Me: The conventional wisdom, now carved in stone, is that you have to win Iowa. Do you have to win Iowa?

Gephardt: I have to do well in Iowa. I mean, there's a lot of hypotheticals you can come up with: What if somebody gets 32 percent, and I get 31, and somebody else gets 30 percent? I think that's good enough.

Me: What forces a candidate to end his campaign? Money or the humiliation of losing?

Gephardt: Campaigns don't end -- they run out of money. You've got to put gas in the car every day; you've got to pay the staff; you've got to get planes in the air; you've got to drive cars.

Me: Humiliation doesn't bother candidates?

Gephardt: No, money bothers candidates. If you're running up debts that you can't pay, you'd better get out.

Me: But as long as you've got a dollar, you are going to keep running?

Gephardt: We'll go 'til we drop.

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