Robert Novak

WASHINGTON -- Rep. Richard Gephardt skipped last Tuesday's Democratic presidential debate in Boston's Faneuil Hall not because of campaign commitments in Iowa but as a conscious decision to avoid what his strategists viewed as a no-win situation.

Gephardt's absence marked the first time this year a leading Democratic contender for the presidential nomination missed a debate. His high command determined that Boston was hostile territory and that CNN anchorman Anderson Cooper was a hostile debate moderator.

In Gephardt's absence, the debate provided what his strategists feel is a tactical opening in his neck-and-neck battle for survival with former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean in the Iowa caucuses. Dean was put on the defensive after he said Democrats need to reach white Southerners who display Confederate flag decals.


In response to reports circulating in high-level business circles that he may be dumped from the ticket, administration insiders say Dick Cheney definitely will be retained as vice president in 2004.

Critics of President Bush's military intervention in Iraq contend that the vice president led him on an ill-advised course. However, Cheney still has the confidence of the president and is a favorite of Republican activists around the country.

Apart from Bush relying heavily on Cheney, administration sources say there is another strong reason for not dumping the vice president next year. Cheney, who will be age 63 in 2004, is not a prospect for president in 2008. Any replacement would be considered the anointed heir to Bush, and the president does not want to pick his successor now.


Fourteen conservative House Republicans are threatening to vote against the Medicare prescription drug bill, risking its defeat, unless it includes three provisions that probably would make the bill unacceptable in the Senate.

The GOP rebels want universal medical savings accounts, reforms to provide more private competition and cost containment to hold the bill's price tag below $400 billion. Leading the charge are the conservative Club for Growth and Rep. Pat Toomey, who is challenging Sen. Arlen Specter for Republican renomination in Pennsylvania.

The Club for Growth's Steve Moore contends that the House Republican leadership cannot find enough Democrats to vote for the bill to counter 14 GOP defections. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, a member of the Senate-House conference negotiating the final version of the bill, argues that the rebels are undermining his efforts to end up with a more conservative bill.


Robert Novak

Robert Novak (1931-2009) was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report.

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