- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 13, 2002

Rep. Harold E. Ford Jr. said yesterday that he is picking up support in his bid to become House Democratic leader and might swing enough of Rep. Nancy Pelosi's previously committed supporters, including his fellow black members, to win tomorrow's race.
"If we keep adding votes at this pace, we'll win," Mr. Ford, of Tennessee, said in an interview yesterday. He also pledged that should he win the leadership position but not capture the House majority for Democrats in 2004, he would step down as leader.
More than half of all House Democrats and about half of the Congressional Black Caucus members support Mrs. Pelosi, of California, a 62-year-old San Francisco lawmaker who is Democratic whip.
But Mr. Ford, a 32-year-old conservative-leaning lawmaker who is a member of the black caucus, said he is winning support from a range of Democrats.
Asked about Mrs. Pelosi's public support from black caucus members, he said, "It's early and the votes haven't been cast yet." He also said he's "not playing a numbers game or name game" with lists of supporters.
House Democrats are selecting a new leadership tomorrow as they try to evaluate what went wrong in last week's midterm elections, when they lost seats in both the House and Senate. Mrs. Pelosi has positioned herself as a liberal who will listen to all viewpoints among House Democrats, but Mr. Ford said she is still part of the current leadership and that the party needs change.
"My base of support rests with those who believe we need change. Period," he said.
Mr. Ford has been conducting a whirlwind campaign since announcing his surprise bid for the slot Friday. His announcement came at the exact moment Mrs. Pelosi was announcing that she had sewn up enough support to declare the race over.
Still, leadership elections often turn on blocks of votes, and Mrs. Pelosi is expected to command the vast majority of California Democrats. Another candidate who withdrew last week, Rep. Martin Frost of Texas, had hoped to counter with all 17 Texas Democrats. Being from Tennessee, Mr. Ford doesn't have a large group of home-state Democrats he can rely on, and judging by public commitments he can't count on a majority of black caucus members, either.
The caucus hasn't taken a public position on the race, but about 15 members are part of Mrs. Pelosi's list of committed Democrats, and several others declared their support after Mr. Frost dropped his leadership bid.
Several congressional aides said that should Mr. Ford become House Democratic leader, he would have to choose between voting with the majority of party members and the aspirations of many of his constituents in Tennessee, who tend to support the Republicans on many issues. Mr. Ford had looked at running for the Senate this year and may have statewide ambitions. His record this year including votes authorizing the use of force in Iraq, supporting a ban on late-term partial-birth abortions and supporting making some of President Bush's tax cuts permanent are at odds with a majority of House Democrats.
Some of those who have declared their support for Mrs. Pelosi since Mr. Frost left the race, such as Reps. Sheila Jackson-Lee of Texas and Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, say that although they respect Mr. Ford, Mrs. Pelosi is closer to their own brand of liberalism. This sentiment has been echoed by many House Democrats. They say the campaign is not about race but about who can represent their positions and help the party win.
"How about a leader that's more progressive? I mean, I draw these fine distinctions. That's what I'm looking for," said Rep. John Conyers Jr. of Michigan on Friday when asked which candidate would be better for black Americans.
As of yesterday afternoon, Mr. Conyers was still undecided, his spokeswoman said, adding that the congressman wants to meet again with Mr. Ford and also wants to discuss the issue with black leader Jesse Jackson.
Mr. Ford does claim the support of some black caucus members, including returning Rep. William Lacy Clay of Missouri.
"While I believe that Nancy Pelosi would make a fine leader, the Democratic Party needs to reassess where it is going, and Harold Ford offers a new generation of leadership," Mr. Clay said. "He's a bridge-builder who can unite the different factions of the party, including the 18- to 34-year-olds. He'll definitely bring fresh ideas to the table, and that's what we need."
Mrs. Pelosi's spokesman did not return repeated calls for comment on the progress of the race yesterday. But Mr. Ford said the vote is private and that he will wait to see how it turns out.
He also might garner substantial support from the Blue Dogs, a small group of conservative House Democrats of which he is a member. He met with them yesterday evening.
"We had a great meeting with the Blue Dogs; a big announcement will come tomorrow. I feel good about the direction we're moving," he said yesterday evening as staffers bustled in the room next door, stuffing envelopes with a videocassette of Mr. Ford's pitch to members.
Most representatives send out "Dear Colleague" letters to convey a position or announce support for a fellow lawmaker, but Mr. Ford produced a brief video instead, a new technique he said exemplifies the energy and perspective he will bring to the job.


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