- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 14, 2002

The race for House Democratic minority leader yesterday became more complex as Rep. Marcy Kaptur of Ohio announced her own protest candidacy while Rep. Harold E. Ford Jr. of Tennessee showcased support from conservative Democrats and the front-runner, Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, attempted to reach out to conservatives.
Miss Kaptur, the senior female Democrat in the House, said she hopes to delay today's vote so members can digest and discuss the Republican gains in last week's midterm elections. Barring that, the only way she can make a case for changing her party is to stand as a candidate.
"The purpose of that, I hope, will be to open our caucus up and to provide the kind of discussion incisive, healing, forward-looking that I think needs to happen inside the caucus itself," she told reporters.
But several key members saw little likelihood the debate would be delayed, and Mrs. Pelosi continued on a path toward election as minority leader.
Mrs. Pelosi announced that her first action as leader would be to appoint Rep. John M. Spratt Jr. of South Carolina as her assistant a move that could counter the charge that she is too liberal and unable to appeal to more conservative members.
"Congressman Spratt is a leader who has earned the respect of his colleagues from across the political spectrum," Mrs. Pelosi said.
She said Mr. Spratt would be her liaison to the Budget Committee, where he is the ranking minority member.
Mrs. Pelosi has released a list of supporters comprising more than half of the Democratic caucus for the 108th Congress. She has added more supporters since Rep. Martin Frost of Texas dropped out of the race last week.
One new supporter is Rep. Shelley Berkley of Nevada, who voted with President Bush on tax cuts and on authorizing use of force to disarm Iraq. She said she may differ with Mrs. Pelosi on many issues but that Mrs. Pelosi is the only viable candidate who can unite and strengthen Democrats.
Mrs. Berkley said she and Mrs. Pelosi agree on two issues that are critical to Las Vegas: opposing the federal plan to store nuclear waste at nearby Yucca Mountain and maintaining a "hands-off" approach to the gaming industry.
"If I'm going to be standing side by side with someone in the U.S. House, I want someone who's going to support me on Yucca Mountain and gaming," she said.
Mr. Ford continued to win over uncommitted members, including Rep. Albert R. Wynn of Maryland, who said Mr. Ford represented a good new direction.
"I think his focus is one we need to have to appeal to a broad cross-section of Americans," Mr. Wynn said, praising in particular Mr. Ford's proposal for a payroll tax holiday.
Mr. Ford, who met Tuesday night with fellow members of the Congressional Black Caucus, said he was making headway but wouldn't talk about numbers.
"Blue Dog, Black Caucus members, Hispanic Caucus members, Progressive Caucus members this coalition is steadily building," he said at a news conference, where he was joined by eight members of the Blue Dog Coalition made up of conservative-leaning Democrats.
"I can assure you the race is not over, and Ms. Pelosi does not have all of the votes locked up," said Mr. Ford, a member of the Blue Dogs.
Senate Democrats yesterday voted unanimously to retain their leadership, including Tom Daschle of South Dakota in the top post. That move stood in stark contrast with the soul-searching in the House, where Democratic leader Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri had declined to run again for the job after his party lost ground in the election.
The contest for Mr. Gephardt's replacement has been described alternately as a chance for the party to find a new face, to recommit itself to basic principles or to turn in a new direction.
Rep. Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, who is running unopposed for Democratic whip, said the choice can't be between a liberal or centrist stance.
"The issue for Democrats is going to be not selecting the two alternatives that people put forward, either appealing to the base or appealing to the swing voters," Mr. Hoyer said. "Frankly, if the Democrats don't do both, we are going to lose. So, we need to reach out and energize our base while at the same time reach out to swing voters who are not necessarily aligned with the party or the philosophy."
That means focusing on jobs, education and health care as issues to distinguish Democrats from Republicans, Mr. Hoyer said.
"I also think we need to make sure the American public knows that we are a party that believes in a strong national defense, we are a party that believes in homeland security, and that we will support both these."
Meanwhile, Miss Kaptur will make her pitch for the party to embrace a new agenda that takes its cues from local and state Democratic organizations whose fund-raisers feature "fish-fries and bake sales, not $1,000-a-plate dinners."
"The objective must be reform, neither left nor right nor center," she said in her letter to colleagues.

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