Says he won't be a candidate for...

REP. DICK GEPHARDT

July 20, 1991|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

REP. DICK GEPHARDT says he won't be a candidate for president in 1992. As if he ever had a chance.

U.S. representatives never get elected president. What, never? Well, hardly ever. In 1880, James A. Garfield became the only incumbent member of the House to be elected president, and they shot him.

It's easy to see why. (Why reps don't get elected president, I mean, not why they shot Garfield.) To run a nation you need to have had some experience in handling a bigger, more diverse constituency than a little congressional district. Gephardt, who has ducked three opportunities to run against Republicans in a Senate race, never got more than 150,000 votes in his life.

Democrats need a presidential candidate who has gotten a lot more than that. Say at least 10 times more -- 1.5 million.

Are there any Democrats out there who did that well in their most recent race? Yes, a few.

New York's Gov. Mario Cuomo (2.1 million votes the last time out) and Sen. Pat Moynihan (4 million) are two. I personally think New Yorkers can't be elected president any more. The state's Democrats are too liberal for the country. So I would scratch them.

Gov. Robert Casey of Pennsylvania (2 million) is not too liberal, but home staters don't think of him as presidential. Scratch him, too.

Sens. John Glenn (1.9 million) and Howard Metzenbaum (2.5 million) of Ohio. Glenn ran for president once and failed badly. He also has a link to Charles Keating. Metzenbaum is much too liberal. Sen. Paul Simon (2.1 million) and Sen. Alan Dixon of Illinois (2 million). Dixon's like Casey, and Simon, like Glenn, tried this once and flopped. Sen. Don Riegle of Michigan (2.1 million), like Glenn, is too close to Keating. Scratch, scratch, scratch, scratch, scratch.

But Florida's ex-senator now governor, Lawton Chiles (1.99 million), is an interesting possibility. Is America ready for a Prozac president? Florida Sen. Bob Graham (1.9 million) is also interesting and doesn't get clinically depressed. (I don't think. Of course, he hasn't been in the Senate as long as Chiles had been when he got that way.)

Then there's Sen. Lloyd Bentsen of Texas. He's the Democrats' champion one-state vote getter. He got 3.1 million votes in 1988 running for re-election. On the same day, he got 2.3 million votes running for vice president, for a total of 5.6 million.

Now let's add Gov. Ann Richards of Texas. She qualifies with 1.9 million votes in 1990. She has amazed politicians and journalists by her skill and popularity in her first year in office.

And I would also add Dianne Feinstein to this list. She narrowly lost the California governorship last year, but she got 3.5 million votes in the process.

What! Run a gubernatorial loser for president? Sure. It's been done. Richard Nixon was defeated in his race for the governorship of California, then ran for president and won.

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