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Gephardt bows out, but might ponder VP

With tears in his eyes and a voice choked with emotion, Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri returned on Tuesday to the city where his political career began 33 years ago and said he was abandoning his bid for the presidency.

Gephardt, who has spent nearly three decades in Congress, said he planned to serve out his term in the House of Representatives before retiring in January. He said he was not interested in seeking a Senate seat, but did not rule out accepting a vice presidential nomination.

Surrounded by family and friends who wept openly, Gephardt congratulated his Democratic rivals and said he accepted his defeat in the Iowa caucuses on Monday. He finished fourth, garnering 11 percent of the vote in a state he had won handily in his first presidential bid in 1988.

"I accept the results with the knowledge that I gave this campaign everything that I had in me," said Gephardt, 62, who was the Democratic leader in the House for 13 years. "Today my pursuit of the presidency has reached its end. I'm withdrawing as a candidate and returning to private life after a long time in the warm light of public service."

Gephardt's withdrawal signals the beginning of the battle for Missouri, which holds its primary on Feb. 3. Once dominated by Gephardt, the state will now become a battleground.

Gephardt's advisers said they believed their candidate, who had spent years cultivating a network of supporters in Iowa, was too familiar to Democrats who were looking for a fresher face. His decision to help write the resolution that authorized the invasion of Iraq also alienated some voters.

Gephardt declined to assess his campaign on Tuesday.

"I'm looking forward," he said. "I'm looking to what comes next."