- The Washington Times - Friday, November 8, 2002

Rep. Martin Frost yesterday attacked Rep. Nancy Pelosi, his opponent in the battle for House Democratic leader, as too liberal to win Congress back for the Democrats in 2004.

"I think that her politics are to the left, and I think that the party, to be successful, must speak to the broad center of the country," the Texas Democrat told reporters in formally announcing his bid for the top House Democrat job.

Mrs. Pelosi, of California, for her part said that as minority leader, she would "highlight those differences" between Democrats and "extreme" Republicans.

Mrs. Pelosi and Mr. Frost, now the second- and third-ranking House Democrats, are in a weeklong sprint to Thursday, when the House Democratic Caucus will meet and elect its leaders for the 108th Congress. Mrs. Pelosi is the House minority whip, Mr. Frost is the chairman of the House Democratic Caucus.

The race is shaping up as the Democrats' first chance to assess what went wrong in Tuesday's elections.

Mr. Frost quickly took aim at those, such as Mrs. Pelosi, who have said the Democrats' historic defeat Tuesday proves they need to move left.

"The battleground seats in this country are in swing, marginal, moderate and conservative areas," Mr. Frost said. "If we want to write off all those seats, if we want to say, 'We want to be to the left, and we want to be pure,' we will be a permanent minority party."

Yesterday, Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, Missouri Democrat, officially announced that he will not seek re-election to the position, ending eight years as head of his party in the House but suggesting that he might run for president in 2004.

"It's time for me personally to take a different direction, look at the country's challenge from a different perspective and take on this president and the Republican Party from a different vantage point," he said in a written announcement.

He did not make a public appearance.

In their secret ballot next week, House Democrats will decide whether the face of the party will be a liberal Democrat from California or a more centrist Democrat from Texas.

Mrs. Pelosi, who was home in her San Francisco district yesterday, released a short statement declaring her candidacy.

"I am convinced that the American people share our values and our hopes for the country. Now we must show them the proof of our commitment, particularly with regard to revitalizing the economy," she said. "We must draw clear distinctions between our vision of the future and the extreme policies put forward by the Republicans."

But Mr. Frost said that if the party pursues the liberal course Mrs. Pelosi supports, it will lose the key races again next time.

"If it's a question of being pure all the time, just standing by certain fundamental beliefs and never compromising, we will be in a minority party for the foreseeable future, and we will have less Democrats than we do today," he said.

Mrs. Pelosi's argument for sharpening the parties' differences echoed an assessment of the election by Rep. Thomas M. Davis III of Virginia, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee.

"If you put a Republican up against a Republican, which is essentially what they tried to do with their candidates, the voter's going to pick the real Republican. And that's what happened," Mr. Davis said Wednesday.

Mr. Frost said, however, that he would not turn the Democratic Party into watered-down Republicans.

"Nobody's talking about being 'Republican light,'" Mr. Frost said. "We're talking about being tough, and we're talking about speaking to the vast center of this country, the people who determine elections in this country. I want us to be in the majority. I want the chance to pass things."

He said Democrats should accept that the nation supports President Bush's foreign policy and that Democratic leaders should instead concentrate on distinguishing themselves on economic issues.

In particular, Mr. Frost said, Democrats should propose freezing the parts of President Bush's tax-cut package that benefit high-income Americans as a way of fighting deficits and for reasons of fairness.

Mrs. Pelosi and Mr. Frost differ most markedly on defense and homeland-security issues and recently split on supporting Mr. Bush's request for authority to go to war with Iraq.

Mr. Frost was one of the first Democrats to support the president, while Mrs. Pelosi was one of the opposition leaders. She was also more vocal in defending three Democratic congressmen who last month visited Iraq and criticized U.S. policy from Baghdad. Mr. Frost said he wouldn't have gone or made the statements they did.

Mr. Frost is seen as the underdog in the race. Mrs. Pelosi has been the heir apparent since she won the whip's job last year and reportedly has a list of 110 committed supporters enough to deliver the job.

In one indication of which way the House Democrats lean on the issues that divide Mrs. Pelosi and Mr. Frost, a majority of House Democrats voted with Mrs. Pelosi against the Iraq resolution.

But Mr. Frost said Mrs. Pelosi hasn't made her list of supporters public yet, suggesting that she may not have the race locked up. And he said Tuesday's elections have given many members a reason to rethink the party's direction.

"There are an awful lot of Democrats who are very uneasy about the party moving sharply to the left," he said.

From Republicans' standpoint, the two candidates look about the same.

"Nancy Pelosi is more liberal, and Martin Frost is meaner," said Stuart Roy, a spokesman for Rep. Tom DeLay of Texas, who is expected to become majority leader when Republicans vote on their own leaders next week.

In battling for the position, both Mrs. Pelosi and Mr. Frost can point to successful fund raising for Democratic candidates.

According to Mr. Frost's office, he raised or contributed about $7.5 million to Democratic incumbents and challengers in the past election cycle, including $4.5 million raised for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and about $1 million through his personal political action committee, the Lone Star Fund.

As of the Oct. 16 finance reports, Mrs. Pelosi had given $1.4 million through her political action committee, PAC to the Future. Her spokesman did not return messages left seeking information on the rest of her fund raising.

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