COUNCIL BLUFFS, IOWA, NOV. 10 -- In their line of work, politicians are fond of saying, no good deed goes unpunished.
Democratic presidential hopeful Rep. Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.) has practiced the good deed of diligence in this state to a degree unmatched by anyone who ever set sights on the White House, yet his marathon bid for his party's nomination appears to have hustled its way into a bind.
With three months to go until the Iowa caucuses on which it has staked so much, the Gephardt campaign is pinched for money, borrowing against later federal matching funds and paying some of its staff late. It finds itself struggling to shake the "panderers" label his opponents are affixing to it, and being whipsawed in its two political bases -- here in Iowa by Sen. Paul Simon (D-Ill.) and across the South by Sen. Albert Gore Jr. (D-Tenn.).
On top of that, Gephardt's vocal cords are beginning to give out, strained by two years of eight-speech-a-day campaigning. "They're just worn down," he said, noting his new drink of choice is hot water and lemon.
But Gephardt, 46, is nothing if not game. And he is stepping up to the adversity with a new stump speech in which he casts himself as the only Democrat offering "real answers to real problems."
"Don't let people come in front of you and offer vague generalities that make you feel warm and good," he told Democratic leaders here today in a swipe at his rivals. "No manåana in this election. Make them be specific."
The new rhetoric drew good responses during a three-day swing that saw Gephardt hopscotching from barn to union hall, from Dubuque to Council Bluffs across a state where he has invested an unprecedented 100-plus campaign days and visited all 99 counties.
This regimen of hard work has proven to be a mixed blessing, however.
His campaign enjoys broad support from labor groups in Iowa, especially the United Auto Workers, and from county-level political leaders. It put on the biggest show of force at the state party's Jefferson-Jackson Dinner last Saturday in Des Moines, hiring 43 buses to help transport about 1,400 supporters from around the state.
Yet there's a downside. Intensive early-bird campaigning here may have been the perfect long-shot strategy when Gephardt launched it two years ago -- at a time when he assumed it was the only way he could compete against Gary Hart and the other nationally prominent candidates expected in the race.
But in today's field, there's no giant for Gephardt to slay here, and he has become a prisoner of the expectations he has raised by his heavy investment here. "Tactically, he sort of got caught in the switches," said one Iowa supporter, who acknowledged that Gephart's failure to lead in the caucuses would be a serious blow.
The Gephardt drive is also experiencing "a strain" in its finances, William Carrick, his campaign manager, said yesterday, acknowledging that half-a-dozen senior staff members, including himself, had not yet drawn their October paychecks.
"The money is coming at about the same clip," Carrick said, "but now we're having to expand operations in Iowa and New Hampshire, so there is a strain."
Carrick said the Nov. 1 paychecks had been delayed "a few days" for most of the staff and that a handful of top staffers are still waiting for them. He said he hopes everyone will be paid by the end of this week.
Carrick said Gephardt raised $215,106 in October but expected to add at least $1 million this month and next. "Collections are always slow in the first month of a quarter," he said. Twice earlier this year, paychecks have been delayed by cash-flow problems, he added.
Carrick said the campaign has borrowed $300,000 against future federal matching funds and that "it's possible we may dip in for as much as another $300,000 or $400,000" in the next few months, anticipating that the loans can be repaid from what Carrick estimates will be $1.2 million in federal matching funds for Gephardt on Jan. 1.
Perhaps more damaging than the cash-flow problem are the accusations from rival camps that his message is nothing more than a collection of special-interest appeals.
Gephardt's speeches this week were built around the argument that precisely the reverse is true; in this campaign, he said, he has repeatedly chosen principle over popularity. He likened himself at every stop to fellow Missourian Harry S Truman, "who told you what you needed to know, not what you want to hear."
For example: "I believe in an oil import fee not because it's popular but because it's the right thing to do," he told 100 farmers on Monday. "It'll cost you an extra 5 or 10 cents a gallon of gasoline, and if you think people here don't like that, it's even worse in New Hampshire."
Gephardt's opponents see it differently. They say his support for an oil import fee is a play to the Texas money interests, just as they say his sponsorship of agricultural production-control legislation is a play for the farm vote and his support of tough trade law is a bow to the labor union vote.
Gephardt says the "big boys" in farming, in fact, oppose his agriculture legislation. His trade legislation, he said, has brought endless charges that he is protectionist. "They got it 180 degrees wrong," he said. "I'm the one who's against protectionism -- foreign protectionism."
Gephardt said in an interview he plans to sharpen his attacks on his opponents, especially Simon. "I don't hear Paul being specific on the revenue question," he said. "I'm not sure where he stands on trade and agriculture. And to talk about a big 1930s-style jobs program and a balanced-budget amendment in the same breath is incredible to me."
Gephardt's Iowa campaign manager, Steve Murphy, went further: "Simon says he's the real Democrat and not neo-anything, but his economics are neo-voodoo, and the voters are going to find that out."