Congressman Richard Gephardt announced Tuesday that he is dropping out of the race for the Democratic presidential nomination. The announcement follows his disappointing fourth place finish in the first election year contest in the state of Iowa. The decision means an end to a national political career spanning three decades, including two unsuccessful presidential bids.
Although he had pledged to press his campaign through the first group of politically-important caucuses and primaries, Mr. Gephardt's poor finish in Iowa proved to be his undoing.
During his first bid for the White House in 1988, Mr. Gephardt won in Iowa. This time, it was not to be, as many Democrats there turned to other choices.
With a key rival, Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, winning 38 percent of the vote, and facing a potential repetition of the Iowa result in the upcoming New Hampshire primary, Mr. Gephardt told supporters he was out.
"Today, my pursuit of the presidency has reached its end," he said. "I'm withdrawing as a candidate and returning to private life after a long time in the warm light of public service."
The end of Mr. Gephardt's presidential ambitions comes despite support he developed over the years from key labor unions in the United States.
However, in confirming his withdrawal, Mr. Gephardt said he will continue to fight for middle-class working Americans who he said were hurt the most by Bush administration economic policies, and for other issues as well.
"I will continue to work for universal health care, pension reform, more teachers in the classroom, energy independence from Persian Gulf oil, and a trade policy that doesn't sacrifice American jobs in the pursuit of trade with countries that have no respect for the environment or the living conditions of their own people," he said.
Mr. Gephardt ran a well-organized campaign in Iowa, and most political observers thought he had at least a good chance to win or place second.
At one point in the run-up to the 2004 political primary season, it was thought his outspoken support of U.S. military action in Iraq would hurt him. Here is Mr. Gephardt in 2002, taking perhaps the biggest political gamble of his career.
"In our view, Iraq's use and continuing develop of weapons of mass destruction, combined with efforts of terrorists to acquire such weapons, pose a unique and dangerous threat to our national security," he said. "Many of us believe we need to deal with this threat, diplomatically if we can, militarily if we must."
Public opinion polls showed many Democrats who participated in the Iowa caucuses also opposed the war in Iraq.
However, Senators John Kerry and John Edwards, who like Mr. Gephardt voted for a war resolution in 2002, came in first and second respectively, showing that this issue alone was not a determining factor.
Aside from his criticism of President Bush's handling of Iraq, Gephardt positions on other key issues, such as trade and health care, apparently did not resonate sufficiently to prevent a last minute surge in popularity by his Democratic rivals.
Mr. Gephardt is so far declining to endorse any of the remaining pack of Democrats running for president. He had earlier said he will not seek another term in Congress, and will now return to private life a year from now.
Choking back tears, Mr. Gephardt said the one benefit to leaving politics would be that he will be able to see his family "at every opportunity rather than when opportunities could be found."