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Kerry Turns Elsewhere; Gephardt Looks Ahead

Despite losing out on a chance to be his party’s candidate for the vice presidency, Rep. Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.) isn’t lamenting failure but looking ahead to his next move, friends and allies suggested Tuesday.

Colleagues and one-time aides insist Gephardt, who made two unsuccessful bids for the White House during his 27 years in the House, is comfortable with Democrat John Kerry’s decision to tap Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) as his No. 2. They say while the Missouri lawmaker wanted and would have embraced the nod, he neither expected to get it nor was he surprised when Kerry turned elsewhere.

“He doesn’t dwell on what could have been,” stressed one former Gephardt staffer.

“The vice presidency was kind of a distraction for him for a while, but in some ways he’s relieved he can move on and plot out building a new career,” said another former aide.

That comes even though Gephardt has for months been considered one of Kerry’s top potential choices and was widely viewed as the Massachusetts Senator’s personal favorite for the job. Yet on and off Capitol Hill, well-placed Democrats said Gephardt’s major disappointment came in his failed 2004 presidential bid, not losing out on the job as Kerry’s running mate.

“If you are Dick Gephardt, I am not sure you think it was all or nothing with the vice presidency,” said one senior House Democratic aide.

Gephardt showed no sign of disappointment Tuesday when Kerry made the announcement, saying in a statement: “This is a ticket that can excite, motivate and most importantly defeat George Bush and Dick Cheney in November. I will continue to work hard for their election and look forward to campaigning with them and for them in the months ahead and in our efforts to move America forward.”

Gephardt allies said the former House Minority Leader is looking to a future in the private sector, perhaps in teaching or consulting. But they also were quick to add that if Gephardt were to seek a senior Cabinet position in a prospective Kerry administration, he would be very likely to get it.

“I don’t think he’s going to make many life decisions in the next four months,” said a well-placed Democratic Congressional aide. “[But] I would be shocked if Gephardt didn’t get a senior, high-level post in a Kerry administration, if he wants one.”

One former high-level Gephardt adviser said the Missouri lawmaker may just as soon be happy out of the public sector. This source added that Gephardt recognized getting the vice presidential job was “unlikely” and “was fully expecting it was going to be Edwards.”

“I don’t think Dick has any great burning desire to be in government,” the adviser said. “He wants to spend time with his family and work on his financial future.”

Money could play a major role in what Gephardt decides to do next.

According to personal financial records, Gephardt’s assets range between $203,000 and $645,000. His liabilities sit between $30,000 and $100,000.

Gephardt, who stepped down as the House Democratic leader in 2002, got on Kerry’s vice presidential short list earlier this year after abandoning his own White House hopes. Gephardt unsuccessfully pursued the presidency in 1988, but gave it one more try as he closed out his Congressional career.

Rep. Robert Matsui (Calif.), a close friend of Gephardt’s and chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, acknowledged his colleague would have “been more than happy to accept and delighted to help the party” if Kerry had selected him.

But Matsui quickly echoed the widely expressed sentiment that Gephardt didn’t see the vice presidency as a “catch all” and is interested in other opportunities beyond government.

“He’s now in a position to do what he wants to do in life,” Matsui said. “He’s never really made any money. Dick has been on the road, and it has been a really hectic career for him over the years.”

Matsui said now that the search is over, he will call on Gephardt to travel and raise money for House candidates and the party. Others expect Gephardt will also continue to help the Kerry-Edwards ticket, exploiting his strong ties to organized labor and Midwestern roots.

“Whatever they want him to do, he’s willing to do,” said yet another former senior Gephardt staffer. “Whatever cache he has with parts of the party, I think he will certainly help out.”

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