KCUR News
10:43 am
Thu January 29, 2004

With no endorsement, Gephardt supporters up for grabs

KANSAS CITY – Missouri Congressman Dick Gephardt pulled out of the presidential race after a poor showing in Iowa a Midwestern state he was expected to win. Gephardt was also expected to carry his home state of Missouri but now that he's out of the race, the state is a key battleground for Democratic contenders. As K-C-U-R's Matt Hackworth reports, Gephardt's loss left a local network of volunteers and supporters who are now looking for another candidate.

Zach Bassin is a law student who took a leave of absence to work on Congressman Dick Gephardt's campaign. Last October, he left his fianc e behind and headed north to the frozen fields of Iowa. After the candidate he supported lost, Bassin says it didn't take long for other campaigns to call him.

I got calls the night after I thought that was kind of I know that they're trying to set up their organization. I thought it was a slap in the face. I was very turned off by that. The friends that I had are scattered across the country, doing senate races and stuff like that.

Around 2,000 Missourians worked for Gephardt's Iowa campaign and, like Bassin, some 200 made the trip to Iowa from the Kansas City area. They handed out yard signs, buttons and T-shirts and called registered Democrats, urging them to get out for Iowa's caucuses. While these traditional campaign tactics failed Gephardt in Iowa, his network of motivated volunteers was left as somewhat of a war prize for other candidates to use. But Gephardt hasn't made any endorsements. A spokesman says the Congressman wants the remaining candidates to fight for Missouri's primary win and the state's 88 convention delegates. Veteran democratic operative Woody Overton was a strong Gephardt supporter. Overton says without a clear endorsement from Gephardt, the candidate's volunteers are left alone to choose:

No, already you can see the Gephardt people are all over the board. I have friends who are with Clark, people who are with Edwards, some who have gone to Dean. I myself have gone to John Kerry. Most have gone to Edwards and Kerry, I think is where the split is.

Without a clear Gephardt voting block, candidates should have to fight even harder in Missouri to gain support. But even if there was a Gephardt contingent looking to throw its weight behind a candidate University of Missouri political science professor David Weber says he doubts it would amount for a strong pull.

certainly where his staffers go, I think that makes a difference. And perhaps in St Louis, I think there will be less turnout now than there would be otherwise. But I don't think Gephardt's appeal, in Columbia or Kansas City, was of a passionate nature.

And Weber says a Gephardt voting block would have made little difference in a short amount of time. Only about two weeks will have passed between Gephardt's concession and Missouri's primary. Weber says the short time span means most of the race will be fought not with a huge volunteer base but with large campaign coffers to fuel an expensive and quick television advertising battle.