Dick Gephardt is conceding the Democratic presidential nomination to one of his rivals, acknowledging after a disappointing fourth-place finish in Iowa that "this didn't come out the way we wanted."
"My campaign to fight for working people may be ending tonight, but our fight will never end," the Missouri congressman said Monday night in a post-caucus speech.
Aides said Gephardt was returning home to St. Louis and would formally withdraw at midday Tuesday.
Backed by almost two-dozen labor unions, Gephardt, who won the caucuses in 1988 but stumbled in primaries that followed, went into Iowa with high expectations.
He and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean had the strongest organizations to turn out supporters — traditionally the key in the complicated caucus system. But Sens. John Kerry of Massachusetts and John Edwards of North Carolina had the momentum in the race's final week, finishing first and second respectively.
Gephardt didn't do better than other top candidates among union members, supposedly his core supporters.
He pledged to support the Democratic nominee "in any way I can," but did not indicate whether he would endorse anyone while the primary campaign continued.
Nor did Gephardt say whether he intends to serve out his current term in Congress, his 14th and last.
"Never give up. Never give in. Never stop helping your country be an even better place," he told supporters Monday night.
His return to St. Louis 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 was a pragmatic politician who campaigned as a man with working-class roots. On the stump, he nearly always mentioned his father, a Teamster milk truck driver, and his mother, a secretary — neither of whom finished high school.
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.
He campaigned aggressively as an opponent of NAFTA and the China trade deal, arguing that they were responsible for thousands of job losses, often to overseas sweatshops that employed child labor.
He also campaigned to repeal President Bush's tax cuts and use the money to help extend health care to all Americans. It was a personal, as well as a political issue for him. He called his proposal "Matt's plan" after his son, who was diagnosed with cancer as a toddler, but survived.
"This didn't come out the way we wanted," Gephardt said after the caucus results were tallied. "But I've been through tougher fights in my life. When I watched my 2-year old son fight terminal cancer and win, it puts everything into perspective."
Gephardt took heat from Dean for his support of the congressional resolution backing the war in Iraq. Gephardt defended that decision, but criticized the way Mr. Bush has conducted the war.
The scene at Gephardt's Iowa caucus-night party was grim, with backers filing quickly out of a downtown hotel.
Fred Noon, 53, a city public works employee in Des Moines, said he was disappointed. "I just wish people would have turned out better for him," said Noon, president of the municipal laborers' Local 353.
"I think union members voted for him and not a whole lot of others," he said.
A survey of Iowans entering their caucuses showed Gephardt got little credit for his experience. Iowans who said experience was a key quality for them chose Kerry by a 4-1 margin.
Only one in 20 Iowans said trade was a top issue.
The survey showed that just 23 percent of caucus-goers were from union households — and Gephardt trailed Kerry in winning their support.