DES MOINES, Iowa – Rep. Dick Gephardt (search) conceded defeat in the Democratic presidential race Monday night after a weak fourth-place finish in the Iowa caucuses (search) and aides said he would fly home to make a formal withdrawal.
"My campaign to fight for working people may be ending tonight, but our fight will never end," Gephardt said in a post-caucus speech that bore the markings of a political farewell. Aides said he would drop out of the race at a St. Louis news conference at midday on Tuesday.
The Missouri lawmaker offered his congratulations to his presidential rivals, and said one of them would wind up with the party's nomination to challenge President Bush this fall.
He pledged he would support that person "in any way I can," but did not indicate whether he would endorse anyone while the nominating campaign continues.
Nor did Gephardt say whether he intends to serve out his current term in Congress, his 14th and last.
Gephardt's intended withdrawal came as no surprise in the wake of the caucus results. He won the event in 1988, when he first ran for the White House, and aides had said openly that he needed to match that showing this year if he were to remain in the race.
Even before Gephardt stepped to the podium, his spokesman, Erik Smith, said the Missouri lawmaker had decided to fly home to St. Louis rather than go ahead with plans to campaign in New Hampshire for next week's primary.
The flight home pointed to the end of a career that took Gephardt to the heights of Democratic politics -- but left him without either of the two positions he sought, the presidency and speaker of the House.
As Democratic majority leader in the House in 1994, he became the head of a shocked minority after a Republican landslide gave the GOP control.
He spent the next six years attempting to win back the majority, falling short each time.
He stepped down as Democratic leader after the 2002 midterm elections, in which Republicans gained seats. Gephardt has said previously he does not intend to seek re-election to the House.
A favorite of organized labor, Gephardt went into Iowa with high expectation of victory.
He campaigned aggressively as an opponent of NAFTA and the China trade deal, arguing that they were responsible for the loss of jobs overseas, often to sweatshops that employed child labor.
He also campaigned to repeal Bush's tax cuts and use the money to help extend health care to all Americans. It was a personal, as well as a political issue for him.
He called his proposal "Matt's plan" after his son, who was diagnosed with a lethal form of cancer as a toddler, but survived.
"This didn't come out the way we wanted," Gephardt said after the caucus results were tallied. "But I've been through tougher fights in my life. When I watched my two-year old son fight terminal cancer and win, it puts everything into perspective."
Gephardt had counted on a win in Iowa to propel him past New Hampshire and into other early primary states, where his campaign has been advertising on television.
In seeking the nomination, Gephardt found himself caught between the well-financed campaign of Dean, who aimed at luring new voters to the race, and establishment figures like Kerry who argued they stood the best chance of defeating Bush.
A survey of Iowans entering their caucuses showed Gephardt got little credit for his experience. Iowans who said experience was a key quality for them chose Kerry by a 4-1 margin.
Only one in 20 Iowans said trade was a top issue.
The survey showed that 23 percent of caucus goers were from union households, and Gephardt trailed Kerry in winning their support.
Older Iowans accounted for 27 percent of the caucus participants. Gephardt won the support of only 17 percent of those, despite repeated emphasis on Social Security and Medicare.
The entrance poll of Iowa Democratic caucus-goers was conducted for the National Election Pool -- made up of The Associated Press and the TV networks -- by Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International.