Rep. Dick Gephardt signaled his withdrawal from the Democratic presidential race Monday night after a devastating fourth-place finish in the Iowa caucuses.
"My campaign to fight for working people may be ending tonight, but our fight will never end," Gephardt said in a post-caucus speech that sounded like a political farewell. Aides said he would formally drop out of the race at a St. Louis news conference at midday on Wednesday.
The Missouri lawmaker offered his congratulations to his presidential rivals, and in a campaign concession, said one of them would wind up with the party's nomination to challenge President Bush this fall.
He pledged he would support that person "in any way I can," but did not indicate whether he would endorse anyone while the nominating campaign proceeds.
Nor did Gephardt say whether he intends to serve out his current term in Congress, his 14th and last.
Gephardt's intended withdrawal came as no surprise in the wake of the caucus results. He won the event in 1988, when he first ran for the White House, and aides had said openly that he needed to match that showing this year if he were to remain in the race.
Late Iowa returns showed Gephardt barely in double digits, far behind Sens. John Kerry and John Edwards and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean.
Even before Gephardt stepped to the podium, his spokesman, Erik Smith, said the Missouri lawmaker had decided to fly home to St. Louis rather than go ahead with plans to campaign in New Hampshire for next week's primaries.
The flight home pointed to the end of a career that took Gephardt to the heights of Democratic politics — but left him without either of the two positions he sought, the presidency and speaker of the House.
As Democratic majority leader in the House in 1994, he became the head of a shocked minority after a Republican landslide gave the GOP control.
He spent the next six years attempting to win back the majority, falling short each time.
He stepped down as Democratic leader after the 2002 midterm elections, in which Republicans gained seats. Gephardt has said previously he does not intend to seek re-election to the House.
A favorite of organized labor, Gephardt went into the state with high expectations. He won the Iowa precinct caucuses in 1988 but stumbled in the primaries that followed. He watched as Michael Dukakis won the party's nomination only to be defeated in November by the first President Bush.
Gephardt was a pragmatic politician who campaigned as a man with working-class roots. And while he was an experienced political figure that many voters saw as a creature of Washington and Capitol Hill, he argued that he was man with new ideas for running the country.
The lawmaker has opposed international trade agreements which, he says, result in lower wages for Americans and the loss of jobs overseas. He also talked frequently about health care, telling the story of his son Matt, who as a toddler was diagnosed with cancer and given just weeks to live by the family's doctors.
Matt, now in his 30s, survived because the Gephardts had health insurance that paid for experimental treatment.
In his campaign travels, audience after audience related to Gephardt's account of nights spent at the hospital with parents who couldn't afford insurance.
He had counted on a win in Iowa to propel him into New Hampshire and other early primary states, where he'd been running ads on television.
In seeking the nomination this time, Gephardt found himself caught between the well-financed campaign of Howard Dean, who aimed at luring new voters to the race, and establishment figures like John Kerry who argued they stood the best chance of actually defeating Bush.
Critics also argued that in all his years as Democratic leader of the House Gephardt was never able to regain the majority, arguing that demonstrated that his message didn't sell well with most voters.
Gephardt didn't get a lot of credit for his experience, people who said experience was a key quality for them chose Kerry by a 4-1 margin.
Only one in 20 said trade was a top issue, though Gephardt was strongest among them. He lagged behind others among those who thought other issues were more important.
Gephardt lagged behind among those who strongly approved of the war with Iraq. Gephardt didn't do better than other top candidates among union members, supposedly his core supporters.
The entrance poll of Iowa Democratic caucus-goers was conducted for the National Election Pool — made up of The Associated Press and the TV networks — by Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International