- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 7, 2002

Rep. Richard A. Gephardt will step aside as House Democratic leader, becoming the first post-election casualty among leading Democrats.
House Democrats are scheduled to select their leaders for the 108th Congress on Nov. 14, and Democratic lawmakers yesterday said the Missouri congressman will not be a candidate, touching off a scramble to fill the Democratic leadership positions.
"I will run for the open position of Democratic Leader that Dick Gephardt is vacating. I have had encouraging conversations with a lot of Members, and so I enter this race with confidence," said Rep. Martin Frost of Texas, the third-ranking House Democrat, in a statement.
The second-ranking Democrat in the House, Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, will also seek the top slot.
Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, said he will run for the whip position that Mrs. Pelosi leaves open, and said he has public pledges of support from 173 Democrats far more than needed to secure the position.
House aides said last night Mr. Gephardt was calling other Democratic lawmakers to tell them of his decision. He will make a formal public announcement today.
Mr. Gephardt was facing a nascent revolt in his caucus from members who said that after failing for the fourth time to recapture control of Congress, Democrats needed to look elsewhere for leaders.
"I think tough questions will be asked," Rep. Harold E. Ford Jr., Tennessee Democrat, said earlier in the day as he made the rounds on cable news networks. "I am not alone in raising this. If he decides to seek re-election to be leader again of Democrats in the House, he'll face opposition."
Democrats lost at least four House seats Tuesday only the third time in history that a party not occupying the White House failed to add seats in a midterm election. In the Senate, Democrats suffered a net loss of two seats, and will surrender control as soon as the Republican winner in either Minnesota or Missouri is sworn in.
Sen. Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, will lose his title of majority leader. Some pundits and Democratic activists also wondered if he will lose his leadership of Senate Democrats altogether, though no senators yesterday publicly called for him to step down. Several activists privately called for Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe to resign after the party's poor election showing.
In a similar fashion, House Speaker Newt Gingrich resigned his speakership and his congressional seat after Republicans failed to pick up seats in the 1998 election, one of the other two times the party without the presidency didn't gain House seats in a midterm election. The first occasion was under President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1934.
Even before the elections, Mr. Gephardt was rumored to be stepping down as House Democratic leader regardless of the results. He is thought to be a strong contender for the Democratic nomination for president in 2004, although it was not clear yesterday what role that played in his decision.
Mrs. Pelosi, who won the party-whip position last year, is considered the front-runner in the race to succeed him. But she is from the liberal wing of the party, and Mr. Frost is positioning himself as the candidate of centrist Democrats.
He also said that his experience both as head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and of the Democrats' redistricting task force this year would be key to winning the House back in 2004.
"I've gone toe to toe against the Republicans in some pretty tough fights and helped Democrats win. I've overseen successful Democratic strategies as DCCC chair and in redistricting," Mr. Frost said yesterday evening. "I'm confident we can devise a strategy to retake the House under these circumstances."
Mr. Frost and Mrs. Pelosi split over their support of the president's request to use force in Iraq. Mr. Frost was out in front of other Democratic leaders, including Mr. Gephardt, in supporting Mr. Bush, while Mrs. Pelosi was one of the leaders opposing the resolution.
In the Senate, many Democratic lawmakers were keeping silent yesterday. Those who did comment weren't calling for Mr. Daschle to resign, but they did call for a change in the party's message and style.
"Something's very wrong when a so-called national party cannot send its national chairman, or its titular head, or its Senate leader, into a third of this country because they would do more harm than good by being there," said Sen. Zell Miller, Georgia Democrat.
Mr. Miller had warned his fellow party members there would be electoral consequences, particularly in the South, by opposing the president on particular judicial nominations and on his plan for a Department of Homeland Security. Before the elections, Mr. Miller said the Democrats' monthlong struggle against the president on homeland security was "one long negative ad against Democrats."
Meanwhile, Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, called for a stronger distinction between Democrats and the president to give Americans a reason to vote.
"We need a clearly defined agenda different from President Bush, and true to who we are and what we stand for," he said in a statement. "Cynical strategies that would have Democrats avoid talking about foreign policy and national security or efforts to simply blame the president for the economy without offering an alternative vision defeat the best traditions of our party."
Mr. Kerry is a potential 2004 presidential candidate. Fellow Sens. John Edwards of North Carolina and Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, who are also considering presidential runs, had no comment, according to their spokesmen.
Mr. Daschle blamed election night results on his party's inability to convey a message and be heard.
"I think this country is still in the upheaval of September 11. I think the war in Iraq, the North Korean situation, all of that probably precluded us from having the opportunity to break through with the issues we wanted to talk about the most the economy, education, health care, those issues that generally resonate for Democrats," Mr. Daschle said.
Sen. Patty Murray, Washington Democrat and chairwoman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said another factor was that most of the competitive Senate seats were in states Mr. Bush won in the 2000 presidential election.
"Democrats made these races competitive, and forced Republicans to spend a lot of time and energy defending their home turf," she said. "In many races, Republicans were expected to win by a landslide, and our Democrats held Republicans within the margin of error, making many races too close to call going into Election Day."
She said the problem lay with the party's inability to garner Republican and independent votes in states where a Democratic base wasn't enough to win.


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