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Gephardt Blames Election Loss On Bush’s Influence, Popularity

The Washington Post -- WASHINGTON

House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt (D-Mo.) said Thursday that Democrats would have lost more House seats Tuesday if he and other party leaders had tried to nationalize the election around the future of President Bush’s tax cut, and argued that Bush’s post-Sept. 11 popularity and the presidential megaphone simply overwhelmed the Democrats’ domestic message.

On the day he announced that he won’t seek another term as House Democratic leader, Gephardt also blamed Tuesday’s results -- in which Republicans made history by capturing control of the Senate and gaining House seats in a president’s first midterm election -- on the GOP’s superior financial resources rather than any failure by Democrats to offer a clear alternative message.

“In this election, the determinant in my view was quite simply 9-11 and George Bush’s popularity and the country being in a very sensitive condition vis-À-vis their own security and their own safety issues,” he said during an interview in the Capitol office he will soon relinquish.

Gephardt’s decision to step down as party leader in the House was widely interpreted by other Democrats as a first step toward a probable 2004 presidential campaign that could pit him against former vice president Al Gore, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) and others. Gephardt, however, declined to engage on that subject, saying, “I haven’t figured it out at all. I do not know what I’m going to do.”

He said he generally agreed with Gore, who said Wednesday that the magnitude of Democratic losses this week required a “major regrouping” by the party. But Gephardt offered no clear direction for the party, saying he wanted more time to reflect.

“We need to meet, we need to talk, we need to listen to one another,” he said. “We need to evaluate what we’ve been doing and what we’ve been saying and what our vision is and what our ideas are and what our thinking is.”