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Moorhead, Minn. — North Dakota is one of seven states that will hold a primary or caucus on February 3. On Sunday Richard Gephardt he met with sugar beet farmers and attended a rally organized by the local Teamsters union.
"Gephardt's support has traditionally come from labor and blue collar workers," according toJim Danielson, who teaches political science at Minnesota State University Moorhead. "That's the kind of pitch and that's the audience that he's seeking to address and hopefully mobilize to attend the caucuses and make him look good when the final count comes in February."
Gephardt met with representatives of the Red River Valley sugar industry. He pledged to fight against the Central American Free Trade Agreement -- CAFTA -- and he's using the issue to distinguish himself from presumed frontrunner Howard Dean. He says Dean supports free trade agreements. Gephardt insists that such agreements must have labor and environmental standards to prevent damage to American jobs.
Sugar beet farmers say the agreement will flood the market with cheap foreign sugar. Bill Hejl, a farmer from Amenia, North Dakota, says he likes Gephardt's views on trade and farm policy, and he supports Gephardt's candidacy. Hejl says he'll work to convince his neighbors to support Gephardt. He says many of his neighbors haven't decided who they will support.
"When you have so many candidates trying for a nomination, it's pretty tough to pick and choose and then when the media every day tells you that someone else is in second place and right after that they say they're in second place, they say they have no chance, it's only the front runner that has a chance, and you know that's not true until people actually get in their caucus and vote, it gets pretty confusing," according to Hejl.
Gephardt later spoke at a rally at the local Teamsters hall. An estimated crowd of 200 heard a familiar theme. Gephardt criticized President Bush's handling of the economy. He promised to repeal the Bush tax cuts if elected and replace it with a plan that favors middle class families.
"This president must be replaced," Gephardt said. "I have served with five presidents, he is by far the worst."
Gephardt says no one should take the caucus for granted. He remains optimistic despite polls showing former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean is the Democratic frontrunner.
"Nobody's got momentum yet," he insisted. "Nobody's voted yet. All we've had is polls and predictions. That's not the people. The people decide this."
Gephardt says the seven caucuses and primaries on February 3 will be a critical step in deciding who Democrats will select as their candidate to face President Bush.
"This is kind of like the baseball playoffs. You've got to win or do really well. And you've got to get down to a two-person race, which I think it will be. And then you've got to win and that's what I'm going to do."
But first Gephardt has to survive Iowa. A loss to Dean in the Missouri Democrat's backyard in two weeks could cripple the Gephardt campaign long before the North Dakota caucus.
Gephardt says union support means he has a good local organization in place to turn out supporters February 3. He plans to return to the state before next month.