Who Is Richard Gephardt?

Jan. 13, 2004 -- Richard Gephardt has been a familiar face in American politics for a long time.

The Missouri congressman and current Democratic presidential hopeful says his fascination with the political process started at an early age.

"I think a lot of people think I was born in a blue suit, on the David Brinkley show," he said in an interview with ABCNEWS' Peter Jennings. "And that isn't me. I am much more that kid who grew up in South St. Louis, in a very modest household, with a simple background with parents who didn't get through high school."

As a child, while his friends would be playing on the farm, Gephardt says he remembers sitting in his cousins' living room with his eyes locked on a small black and white television, watching gavel-to-gavel coverage of the Democratic and Republican national conventions.

But as a high school student, Gephardt developed other interests and considered pursuing an acting career.

"I thought about it. I [also] thought about being a Baptist minister," said Gephardt. "My parents wanted me to be a Baptist minister. I was a youth minister in my church when I was still in college. And I was in a lot of theater in high school, and at Northwestern."

Instead, Gephardt attended the University of Michigan Law School and then returned to St. Louis to practice full time.

He met his wife, Jane, as an undergraduate at Chicago's Northwestern University. Married for 37 years, together they forged a career in politics, first as local precinct captains. They still go campaigning door to door together.

Today the Gephardts have three adult children, and their individual stories have become part of his campaign.

His son, Matt, fought a childhood bout with cancer. His daughter Kate often speaks of her experience as a teacher. And recently, his daughter Chrissy made public the fact that she is a lesbian.

Chrissy was hesitant to tell her father she was gay, Gephardt says, because she was fearful it would hurt his career.

"I believe that's probably what went through her head," he said. "But I am sorry that she felt that way. And we immediately told her that we were behind her, and we would always be behind her. And that if this was her decision, to come forward with this information, that we would stand with her every step of the way. My family will always come first."

Win Some, Lose Some

Gephardt was first elected to Congress in 1976, and he became House majority leader in 1989. But in 1994, the Republicans won control of the House, and it was a painful moment for him.

"We lost, they won," Gephardt said. "And somebody had to go and perform the surrender ceremony. And I was the guy. So I did it as well as I knew how to do it."

He stepped down as Democratic leader in 2002, and has since decided not to run for re-election to the House.

Gephardt remembers all to well running unsuccessfully for his party's presidential nomination in 1988, and this may well be his last shot.

But Gephardt says his motivation is a noble one.

"You never like to lose anything you are trying to do, as a goal. But I say often in the campaign, and I really believe this, this is not about me. This is about us. This is about the country. It's about the future of the country.

"This is not Jane Gephardt's best idea for what we oughta be doing right now," he added. "And she, in truth, would just like us to retire, and go travel together, and have a good time. Your family, whether they like it or not, is dragged into this thing. Their lives are changed irrevocably. But that is the price of doing what you think is important to do for the country."