WASHINGTON, Jan. 3 (UPI) -- Rep. Dick Gephardt, who stepped down from his position as House Democratic leader after the November 2002 election, will shortly announce he's moving toward entering the 2004 presidential race.
According to a Gephardt aide Friday, the former House minority leader will announce the formation of a presidential exploratory committee sometime in the next several days.
A source familiar with Gephardt's plans says the timing of his pending announcement has not been changed by the news that Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., is also in the race.
Some analysts have suggested that Gephardt and Edwards may be competing for the same pieces of the nominating electorate -- while Massachusetts Sen. John F. Kerry and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean are fighting for the votes of the liberal activists who make up the remainder of the party's primary base.
Gephardt first rose to national prominence in 1986 when his nascent bid for the 1988 Democrat presidential nomination attracted the support of several dozen of his party colleagues in the House. With their support as a springboard, Gephardt managed to win the 1988 Iowa caucuses and finished second in the New Hampshire primary to Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, the eventual winner of that year's nomination.
He quit the 1988 race after managing to win only his home state of Missouri in the so-called Super Tuesday primary.
His political career was resurrected in June of 1989 when fellow Democrats, sent reeling over the scandal-tainted resignations of House Speaker Jim Wright, D-Texas, and Majority Whip Tony Coelho, D-Calif., elected him majority leader, replacing Washington state's Tom Foley who had become the new speaker.
As the party's legislative point man, Gephardt was responsible for leading Democratic opposition to many of the initiatives of the first Bush administration. He was a principal architect of the Andrews Air Force Base budget summit negotiations between Congress and the White House that ultimately produced the tax hike legislation that wrecked the first Bush presidency.
During the eight years of the Clinton administration, Gephardt was generally an advocate for the White House's political initiatives on budget matters, health care and other priorities. He was, however, an opponent of efforts to enact a North American free trade zone, something Gephardt's base of support among big labor organizations also strongly opposed.