At Sam's Sodas and Sandwiches, a small town diner in Carol County Iowa, Dick Gephardt was halfway through a speech on healthcare when he stopped to share the story of his family's personal cancer battle with the audience of mostly seniors.
He told them his son Matt had been diagnosed as a child, and because of his insurance, he survived. "The doctors said the magic words; 'Your insurance will cover it,'" Gephardt said.
The story seemed to strike chords with the Iowa crowd.
"We need people like him with good common sense to get things done," said Norbert Hageman, a Carol County resident.
The "common sense candidate" is a label that fits Gephardt, a career legislator who's been compared to everything from a comfortable pair of shoes to a four-door Buick by the press.
Lucky for Gephardt, comfortable shoes and Buicks seem to be popular in Iowa, the state crucial to his campaign success.
Some of Gephardt's staffers wear shirts bearing the slogan, "Fear the Turtle." The shirt casts Gephardt's competition with Howard Dean for the Democratic nomination as a modern race between the fabled tortoise and hare—with the Gephardt team hoping to catch Dean's campaign crew asleep on the job, enabling the "common sense" man to cross the finish line to candidacy first.
But, they face a problem. With Gephardt leading the Iowa polls, Dean has gone on the offensive, launching a media campaign to slam Gephardt's support for President Bush's $87 billion war package for Iraq and Afghanistan.
Gephardt has since released ads to clarify his stance on the Iraq war and to criticize Dean for politicizing the issue.
After his trip to Iowa, Gephardt traveled to South Carolina. Flanked by laid off workers, he derided his opponents for supporting NAFTA. "We are witnessing the full force and impact of the race to the bottom," he said. "That is why we are losing all these new jobs … all the other candidates are now saying what I've been saying for 20 years."
New Hampshire was a new state with the same backdrop. People without jobs listened to an explanation of why NAFTA took their work.
Gephardt kept it consistent, repeating his message of jobs, healthcare and gaining U.N. support in rebuilding Iraq in each state he visited and every event he attended.
Dick Gephardt dogged and determined, much like the tortoise, but the question remains whether "slow and steady" will be enough to win this race.
By Ben Ferguson