Republican Party Officials Unite Behind Challenger to Gephardt

Article excerpt

Since 1976, when Richard A. Gephardt first went to Congress, Republicans have been trying to knock out the former St. Louis alderman. But he's survived the challenges, along the way becoming a national political figure, a presidential candidate in 1988 and now House Majority Leader.

Republicans have not held the 3rd District since 1948, and the challenge of picking off Gephardt has not become any easier. The south St. Louis County Democrat became majority leader five years ago, and his fund-raising ability is such that he spent $1.6 million on his 1992 re-election campaign.

Republicans are taking an unusual step this year to try to help their new, young challenger emerge from the Aug. 2 primary as the GOP candidate against Gephardt.

The choice of party officials, Gary Gill, is opposed by Wally Anderson in the Republican primary in the 3rd District. The chairwoman of the St. Louis County Republican Committee backs Gill and says the rest of the committee does, too.

"We're all endorsing him," said the chairwoman, Erle Lionberger, of Clayton. "The whole county is behind him. Compared to who is in there now, Gary will do a good job."

Normally, a party leader will avoid picking a candidate or speaking for other committee members before the primary election, for fear of being caught between supporters of competing candidates.

Gill, 36, is a lawyer and certified public accountant from south St. Louis County who has not run for office before. Intense and highly charged, Gill said he had been thinking about running against Gephardt for four years.

He draws a strong contrast between himself and Gephardt.

Gill says he opposes abortion and gun control and differs with Gephardt's stances on those issues. Gill also says he opposes President Bill Clinton's health-care plan, while Gephardt is trying to pass it as majority leader.

"If you go back to 1976 (when Gephardt went to Congress) and look at Dick Gephardt, you will see Gary Gill," said Gill. "Gephardt has changed into a Washington icon. He doesn't represent this district. He ought to be a lobbyist, and he can still go to the fancy dinners."

Gill also is using a new car-inspection law against Gephardt. As a result of a measure passed by Congress, the Missouri Legislature adopted a law requiring a more expensive auto pollution-inspection program to begin in 1995. "It's the federal government playing Mommy and Daddy to you and me again," Gill said.

He concedes that the 3rd District is predominantly Democratic. "But it's very much Catholic, pro-gun, pro-life and anti-tax," he said.

A spokesman for Gephardt said Gephardt preferred to withhold comment on opponents until his opposition formally was chosen in the Aug. 2 primary.

The opponents of Gephardt and Gill in the Aug. 2 primary are candidates who have run unsuccessfully before, or who are running individual campaigns with little or no help. …