Missouri Congressman Richard Gephardt sits in a studio of WXII-TV in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, nodding as he listens to a question through his TV earpiece. The nature of the question becomes obvious as soon as Gephardt begins to speak. “Well, I think everybody in the country demands fair trade, and that’s why I’ve talked so much about it,” Gephardt says. “For instance, a Chrysler K car costs $10,000 in the United States. But if you take that K care to Korea and try to sell it, they put on nine separate taxes and tariffs, and when they are finished, the K car that costs $10,000 here costs $48,000 in South Korea. When I’m president, I’m going to ask the Koreans to take those tariffs off, and if they don’t, they are going to leave the negotiating table wondering how they are going to sell Hyundais in America for $48,000 a copy. I think it is going to take that kind of an aggressive, tougher, but more sensible trade policy to give our workers and farmers a chance to sell our products in their markets…My opponents in this race, Mr. Gore and Mr. Dukakis, have been talking about generalities. They haven’t been putting in front of people what I think we need, which are tough new policies that will really give us the kind of economic future and jobs that we want.”
Gephardt will repeat that message at five-minute intervals for more than an hour. Without moving from his seat, he will reach audiences all across the South; the Gephardt campaign has rented satellite time, and made the candidate available to a dozen TV stations throughout the South, like WJBF, in Augusta, Georgia; or WKYT, in Lexington, Kentucky; or WMDT, in Salisbury, Maryland—stations in places where the campaign can afford to advertise. Those stations fix onto the satellite coordinates, and five minutes later they have an “exclusive” interview with one of the Democratic frontrunners. “These are smaller stations,” says campaign press secretary Mark Johnson. “This will top the news on all of ‘em.”
Dick Gephardt has seized upon an idea. It’s a simple idea, but an enormously compelling one. If Jesse Jackson is the progressive populist, Dick Gephardt is the conservative populist, determined to take on foreign interest on behalf of American wage earners. In Iowa and South Dakota, Dick Gephardt’s open-up-or-else trade policy has been the political equivalent of Ice-9, rapidly rearranging the political landscape. That idea, and his plan for higher farm prices and an oil-import fee to steady the reeling domestic oil industry, has become the intellectual cornerstone of his campaign.
But winning in Iowa and South Dakota has left Dick Gephardt broke and in debt. Since South Dakota, his campaign has become a mad scramble for cash and for free media. To that end, Dick Gephardt has been engaged in a frantic game of media-market hopscotch. For two days, he has been crisscrossing the South, from Alabama to Mississippi to North Carolina, touching down just long enough to rush to a media event to do a live rendition of his K car commercial, to do a TV interview with a local station, and to attend a quick fundraiser in search of cash that will buy him more TV time.