A new Zogby poll puts Rep. Dick Gephardt in the lead among Democratic presidential contenders with 19 percent. But the Missouri Democrat is already on the defensive for flip-flopping on a variety of issues over the years. At a pro-abortion conference in Washington last week, Congressman Gephardt tried to explain why he once supported a constitutional ban on abortion.
"As some of you know, I was raised in a working-class family of Baptist faith, and I went to college on a church scholarship where early teachings were reinforced," Rep. Gephardt said in an address marking the 30th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. He believed that "abortion was wrong" and "there was a moral reason it was illegal." But, he said, "at that time, at the beginning of my journey in public service, I didn't yet realize the full consequences of my positions and beliefs.... Like any true change of heart and mind, it took time, and it should have. Like anyone in public service, I would understand and deserve skepticism if this was a change that came quickly or easily, but I know in my own heart that it didn't."
Close on Rep. Gephardt's heels is Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) with 17 percent support, followed by Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.)-newly endorsed by Ted Kennedy-with 11 percent. Six in 10 Democrats say they don't believe Gephardt or any of his competitors can defeat President Bush in 2004. One in three Democrats say they would never vote for Al Sharpton.