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Gephardt Leads Pack in Endorsements by Colleagues

May 15, 2003|Nick Anderson | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — In the jostling among Democratic presidential contenders for endorsements from elected officials, Rep. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri laid claim Wednesday to being king of the hill -- Capitol Hill, that is.

The 14-term congressman scooped up the formal backing of his successor as House minority leader, Rep. Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco, and her chief deputy, House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland.

Gephardt also named 28 other House Democrats who back his candidacy, including several Californians: Howard L. Berman of Mission Hills, Robert T. Matsui of Sacramento, Adam B. Schiff of Burbank and Lois Capps of Santa Barbara.

With his list, Gephardt ranks well ahead of his rivals in the hunt for congressional support. Endorsements can help candidates in several ways: with fund-raising, publicity and -- in the unlikely event that no clear nominee emerges from the primaries and caucuses -- even at the party's national convention.

Members of Congress are among the 800 "super-delegates" eligible to vote on the party's presidential nominee, according to the Democratic National Committee. They will join the 3,520 delegates that candidates pick up in primaries and caucuses.

"Just for starters, these are a lot of [delegate] votes standing behind me, and that's a really good sight," Gephardt told reporters.

To some extent, Gephardt's list was no surprise. As a House Democratic leader, Gephardt might have been damaged if he had failed to come up with a lengthy batch of endorsements.

Still, with Pelosi and Hoyer on his side, Gephardt can claim a degree of institutional party support that none of his rivals has.

Six of Gephardt's eight foes in the presidential race have Capitol Hill experience: Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich of Ohio; Sens. Bob Graham of Florida, John F. Kerry of Massachusetts, Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut and John Edwards of North Carolina; and former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois. The two candidates without a congressional background are former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean and New York activist Al Sharpton.

Lieberman counts a dozen congressional backers, including California Reps. Dennis A. Cardoza of Atwater, Calvin M. Dooley of Visalia and Ellen O. Tauscher of Alamo.

The Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call has been tracking congressional support for the candidates. According to its tally, Dean has picked up the endorsement of at least four lawmakers, including Rep. Zoe Lofgren of San Jose. Kerry has the backing of at least four lawmakers, including Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald of Carson. Edwards has at least seven congressional endorsements, most from his home state. Moseley Braun has at least two congressional backers, both from Illinois.

At this early stage, many of the 205 House Democrats and 48 Senate Democrats are remaining officially neutral in their party's presidential race. Among the uncommitted are two Californians prominent among party liberals -- Reps. Maxine Waters and Henry A. Waxman, both of Los Angeles.

Also uncommitted are Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.C.) and his chief deputy, Harry Reid of Nevada.

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