Gephardt hones White House themes in Iowa. He stresses `fair trade' and fiscal discipline

Richard A. Gephardt, candidate for president, was asked what he tells people in the towns and hamlets of Iowa, where he has already campaigned on 25 separate trips. Mr. Gephardt, a Democratic congressman from Missouri, noted a few issues. But then he told about a recent incident in which one of his campaign supporters helped prevent a suicide by a widow on a farm that was going to be auctioned at a sheriff's sale.

``I'm telling you, something awful is happening in that state and that part of the country,'' Gephardt told a breakfast meeting of reporters. ``People want hope. It's the one thing that they don't have today that they need.''

Gephardt, who announced his candidacy Tuesday in St. Louis, talks about hope, and opportunity, and values. This is his message. It is a message he says sometimes is not understood by ``people sitting in cushy offices, in secure jobs,'' and who learn about the economy out of economics books.

Gephardt doesn't rail. But in a quiet voice he speaks firmly against ``predatory trade practices'' by countries like Japan and South Korea. The Koreans, he observes, plan to sell 500,000 Hyundai autos in the United States this year at the same time Korea makes it a felony to be caught in possession of an American-made cigarette.

The congressman tells Iowans about his modest upbringing. His father was a milk truck driver and his mother worked as a secretary.

He talks to Iowans about trade, and getting tough on trading partners who do not deal fairly with the United States. He talks about labor-business partnerships to make US industry work again.

Gephardt also talks about government's role in this effort to make America No. 1 again. He talks about getting rid of illiteracy by the year 2000, about retraining workers to get them ready for high-skill jobs, and about helping students reach their full potential without being limited by lack of money.

Some analysts call Gephardt a protectionist on trade. Others say he is an old-fashioned, Kennedy-Roosevelt-style Democrat. He rejects any simple labels, however.

Gephardt has played a lead role in the Democratic Leadership Council, a group of elected Democrats who have tried during the past two years to pull the party back toward the center.

He praises, though tepidly, at least two aspects of the Reagan presidency. He says Mr. Reagan made people feel better about the US, ``but at a high price.'' He is critical of the huge budget and trade deficits.

Gephardt also concedes that Reagan ``made us reexamine what government should do.'' Democrats can learn from Reagan, Gephardt says, that they should be as tough as anyone on ``making government work,'' and that if a program does not work, it should be shut down or overhauled.

Federal spending is ``out of control,'' Gephardt says. He would like to see a slowdown in the rate of spending growth. He wants a tougher look at defense spending. And he thinks the $30 billion a year now going to agriculture needs to be slowed.

``One in every $12 of the federal income tax now goes to agriculture,'' he says, adding that farmers need to be more oriented toward the market, not toward subsidies.

On taxes, the candidate says that if they have to go higher, after a tough look at spending, he would consider new energy taxes, an oil import fee, and a hike in the minimum tax to make the income tax more progressive.

So far, Gephardt remains near the bottom of the field of candidates, with just 1 percent nationwide in the latest Gallup poll.

But there are initial signs of movement. In Iowa, where he has worked so hard, he rose to 3 percent in the newest reading.

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