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Call to Arms

Gephardt Asks Colleagues for Funds, Staff

Rep. Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.) hosted a Members-only conference call Tuesday to ask for more active support for his presidential bid, just as news broke that he fell more than $1 million shy of his quarterly fundraising goal.

Gephardt spoke with the majority of his 31 House Democratic supporters on the morning call, which was designed to update them on his campaign. The former Minority Leader asked the Members to continue their financial support for his candidacy and to act as surrogates in early primary states as soon as Congress adjourns this fall.

The phone call came just before news leaked that Gephardt had not met his $5 million quarterly fundraising goal, instead bringing in $3.87 million. The report puts the Missouri lawmaker in fifth place for the quarter among the nine Democratic presidential hopefuls.

Gephardt aides and supporters insisted Tuesday the Missouri lawmaker’s campaign is not in trouble, and the conference call was not an attempt to reassure Members who previously endorsed him. They said Tuesday’s conference call was one in what will become a monthly event.

Rep. William Lacy Clay (D-Mo.), Gephardt’s national co-chairman, said even though Gephardt had a disappointing quarter financially, he still leads in many major polls and will remain in the thick of things.

“We think the fundraising will take care of itself,” said Clay, who didn’t participate in the conference call but talked to Gephardt separately afterward. “Several of the presidential candidates are having some difficulties in one way or another. He will stay competitive.”

One such contender facing difficulties is Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.), whose chief fundraiser resigned Monday and deputy fundraiser is reportedly planning to leave the campaign as well. Lieberman had a strong second quarter in fundraising, but has had to play catch-up with other top-tier hopefuls in that category.

A Gephardt aide said there was no need for his boss to try and restore confidence among his backers in the House, saying they “were enthusiastic” and “offered to help” the campaign in an array of ways. The call focused on Gephardt’s fundraising and Member donations, lawmakers’ traveling on his behalf after Congress adjourns and talking to other Members about getting behind the former Democratic leader.

“We thanked them for what they have done in the past and asked them to keep doing it,” the aide said. “And we told them they would be useful as surrogates and their staff would be useful in the early states.”

The aide said many of the Members have given to Gephardt’s campaign already.

“We said, if they haven’t given, we asked if they would, and we asked them to host an event in their city or in D.C. for the campaign,” the adviser said. “We always say, ‘Help us out.’”

Neither Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) nor Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), Gephardt’s most prominent House backers, participated in the conference call. Gephardt was expected to speak with Pelosi Tuesday afternoon.

Hoyer has said he plans to travel and raise money for Gephardt, while Pelosi has said her assistance will be more limited, given her priority of fundraising for House Democrats. The new leader, however, has participated in more than one event for Gephardt.

“As surrogates, they are at a superstar level,” said the Gephardt adviser.

The Gephardt aide acknowledged the campaign “didn’t raise as much as we’d like,” but will make up for the shortfall in the next quarter. Their goal is to raise $20 million this year, and Gephardt is on track to meet that benchmark, the aide added.

Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.), who participated in the call, said Gephardt wanted to let Members “know where he was, what [his] strategies were and to get more support” from other House Members.

“He wanted to let us know he felt good about his chances and where he’s headed,” Ruppersberger said, adding that he feels good about Gephardt’s position despite the fundraising totals.

Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.), a staunch Gephardt advocate who also missed Tuesday’s call, stressed that money isn’t everything and his support nationally and in Congress is not in peril.

“Dick’s going to be in good shape,” Kennedy insisted. “He’s been locking up major endorsements from labor and he’s got some more on the way.”

Kennedy added that as Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean duke it out to win New Hampshire, Gephardt still stands strong in Iowa and other key states.

Gephardt asked Members Tuesday to consider traveling to Iowa and New Hampshire once Congress adjourns to help the campaign better organize. Those Members and their staff also would be helpful in Feb. 3rd primary states including South Carolina, Arizona, Delaware, Missouri, New Mexico and Oklahoma, Gephardt said.

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