ST. LOUIS – Three Democratic political announcements were underway Wednesday, with the biggest news coming from St. Louis where Missouri Rep. Dick Gephardt launched his presidential campaign.
Also on tap Wednesday, former Illinois Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun announced she was forming an exploratory committee for a possible presidential run. Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich also was to announce an exploratory committee in the making, bringing the Democratic presidential nominee field to eight with a half dozen others considering bids.
Flush with banners and confetti, the former House minority leader kicked off his campaign by saying that if elected, he will repeal the vast majority of President Bush's "unaffordable, unsustainable and patently unfair" tax cuts to pay for an ambitious new health care initiative.
"Without the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, we can finish the unfinished business of providing high-quality health coverage to everyone who works in America — saving billions and stimulating one of the biggest sectors of our private economy," Gephardt said.
Gephardt, 62, has a steep hill to climb in a crowded field of presidential contenders. Compounded by his inability to win back the Democratic majority in the House in 2002, despite closing the gap in 1998 and 2000, he acknowledged that he is "not the flashiest candidate around" or "the political flavor of the month," but that "the fight for working families is in my bones."
The health care initiative is the cornerstone of an ambitious policy agenda designed to win what Gephardt calls "the contest of ideas," setting him apart from flashier, wealthier Democratic foes, aides said.
But he must also set himself apart from Bush. Gephardt sponsored the resolution in Congress for war against Iraq. Many Democrats, including pro-peace movements in Iowa and New Hampshire, say Gephardt is on the wrong side of the issue and he did not do enough to distinguish himself from Bush and the GOP in the November midterm election.
Gephardt did manage to find a critique of the president's Iraq policy, saying that he should cut the go-it-alone rhetoric and pay more attention to U.N. consensus.
"We must lead the world instead of merely bullying it," he said. "I'm running for president because I'm tired of leadership that's left us isolated in the world, and stranded here at home."
As the minority party is now picking apart the administration, Gephardt will try to lead that charge against Bush, starting with the accusation that the president is pursuing "economics of debt and regret."
"That's the Bush record — a nation with zero job creation, racked with debt, unprepared for the economy of the future. A nation that's growing apart, when we should be growing together," Gephardt said.
In his speech, Gephardt outlined his proposal to give employers tax credits that would cover "most of the cost" associated with providing health care coverage to their workers. He plans to kill two birds with one stone by slamming Bush's 2001 10-year, $1.3 trillion tax, saying his health care initiative will be paid for with the return of higher taxes.
"My economic plan begins at the beginning. We have to scrap the vast majority of the Bush tax cuts for wealthier Americans and corporations. And I'll tell you why: They're unaffordable, unsustainable and patently unfair," the Missouri native said.
Gephardt also said he would create:
— A trust fund for homeland security costs.
— A Teacher Corps in which the government would help pay tuition for students who agreed to teach for five years after college.
— An international minimum wage, different for every nation, that would be established through the World Trade Organization.
A 26-year House veteran, Gephardt's bid is his second in 15 years. In 1988, he won the first of the nation Iowa caucus, though he was ultimately defeated by Michael Dukakis for the Democratic presidential nomination. His win in 1988 in Iowa and his status as a representative from neighboring state Missouri make it an absolute must that Gephardt win Iowa this time around in order to be viable.
But Gephardt faces several candidates, including Conn. Sen. Joe Lieberman and Mass. Rep. John Kerry, both of whom are beating Gephardt in the polls.
Since Lieberman, Kerry and North Carolina Sen. John Edwards are among those who supported the Iraq resolution in Congress, they will focus primarily on domestic economic issues. Civil rights activist Al Sharpton and Vermont Gov. Howard Dean have slammed the president for his Iraq policy.
In Washington on Wednesday, self-described "peace dove and budget hawk" Moseley-Braun said the United States would benefit from a female president in these difficult times because "women have a contribution to make to move our country toward peace, prosperity and progress."
From Gephardt's elementary school in St. Louis, where he made the announcement, he will travel to Des Moines, Iowa and then to New Hampshire, the home of the first presidential primary less than 11 months away.
Gephardt does have some problems going in to the race. In 1987, he switched from being anti-abortion to pro-abortion. At home, Gephardt also has critics who say his decades in Washington have caused him to lose touch with his constituents.
On the plus side for Gephardt, the sandy-haired, youthful looking House veteran has built himself a formidable fundraising network and has made strides identifying himself as a champion of the working man.
His opposition to trade agreements has won the praise of labor leaders, though their endorsements this year are far from assured.
Gephardt, the son of a milkman, served as a St. Louis alderman before being elected to the House, where he voted more conservatively than he does today on an array of issues, including abortion.
Fox News' Carl Cameron and The Associated Press contributed to this report.