WASHINGTON (AP) – Missouri Rep. Dick Gephardt intends to announce today that he is stepping down as House Democratic leader after eight years, senior aides said, one day after his party suffered historic losses in midterm elections.

The expected announcement would clear the way for a succession struggle between Reps. Nancy Pelosi of California and Martin Frost of Texas, who rank second and third in the party leadership.

Gephardt has long signaled his interest in running for president in 2004, but it was not clear whether he would address that race when he announces his plans today.

The Missouri Democrat was majority leader when the 1994 landslide swept the GOP into power in the House. He was elected minority leader in the weeks that followed and spent the next eight years attempting unsuccessfully to return his party to power.

In that time, he served as his party’s chief legislative strategist in the House, often struggling to hold a diverse caucus together on issues ranging from tax policy to international trade legislation.

He was also the Democrats’ political leader and chief fund-raiser in the House. In the final days before Tuesday’s elections, he divided campaigning for Democratic candidates in competitive House races around the country and spent hours on the phone in a final round of appeals to party donors.

Gephardt appeared on morning television programs during the day to field questions about the midterm elections, but did not address his own future. Democrats lost four seats on Tuesday, despite his intensive campaigning and historical trends that customarily favor the party without the White House.

Later in the day, he flew to the capital, and a spokesman said he would spend time with his family and talk with associates as he decided on his political future. “If he chooses to run for minority leader we’re confident he’ll win,” said his spokesman, Erik Smith.

At the same time, two members of the rank and file publicly prodded Gephardt to renounce another term as leader.

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