Three weeks ago, Dick Gephardt (search) was in contention for the job of vice presidential running mate. But the convention opened Monday with John Edwards (search) on the ticket and Gephardt back where he started.

No longer a presidential candidate or House leader, the St. Louis congressman gave no clues about his plans after January, when his 14 terms in Congress come to an end.

"People ask me all the time, `What are you going to do now?"' Gephardt, 63, told supporters at a luncheon reception in his honor Monday at Boston's Wang Center for the Performing Arts.

"And my stock answ organized labor, a natural for the Cabinet job of labor secretary.

"He's a terrific public servant," said Doug Brooks, a national committeeman from Joplin, Mo.

Gephardt, a former city alderman, rose to majority leader under Democratic speaker Tom Foley in 1989. Gephardt ascended to top Democrat in 1995 when Foley lost re-election, but Republicans took over that year and Gephardt became minority leder, not speaker. He stepped down from that post after the 2002 election.

Brooks said it would be disappointing but understandable if Gephardt chose to become a lobbyist, considering that Gephardt was among the less wealthy presidential candidates.

Not everyone would understand. Gary Ruskin, who runs the nonpartisan Congressional Accountability Project, said being a lobbyist would be selling out to the highest bidder.

"It's pretty common for someone of Gephardt's stature to become a hired gun," Ruskin said. "It's regrettable, because instead of members going home and teaching ordinary folks about what they learned, and helping ordinary folks negotiate the political process, they end up for hire by corporations and wealthy elites."