Insiders Would Cheer a Bid by Frost for DNC Chair

Posted December 1, 2004 at 10:22am

Word that Rep. Martin Frost (D-Texas) reportedly is “making phone calls” about a possible bid for chairman of the Democratic National Committee has political observers abuzz. [IMGCAP(1)]

Although it was just a month ago that Frost lost a bid for re-election, political reporters, analysts and Democratic insiders know that the 13-term congressman from the Dallas-Fort Worth area is as politically savvy a Democrat as they come. It’s hard to believe that Frost wouldn’t end up among a handful of top contenders for the DNC job, which will be filled in February.

Frost has several of the qualities that any DNC member would be seeking for a chairman. He knows the “blocking and tackling” of campaigns better than most elected officials, and he is both a good fundraiser and a creative one, as demonstrated by his tenure at the helm of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee — and by his 2004 campaign. Through mid-October of this year, Frost raised $4.34 million — a stunning number for an individual House member, particularly one who was running as an underdog against a candidate, Rep. Pete Sessions, who received intense backing from the business community and other portions of the GOP base.

Frost benefits from the loyalty of a small army of political operatives who respect him and his political savvy. And he can be both an articulate advocate of his party’s agenda and a sharp critic of positions held by the president and the Republican Party’s.

How politically formidable is Frost? Just look at House Majority Leader Tom DeLay’s efforts to bring about a second round of Texas redistricting: Frost was the Texas GOP’s Public Enemy No. 1. While the state’s districts were re-drawn to defeat several other Democratic incumbents, Frost was always the top Republican target.

Though he has not yet formally thrown his hat into the ring, the two-time DCCC chair is clearly interested in the DNC’s top job.

But others, of course, have shown interest as well, including former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, political strategist Donnie Fowler and businessman/party contributor Leo Hindery. Each has pluses and minuses, though at first glance their pluses are not as great as Frost’s and their minuses appear to be greater.

Some party operatives are trying to float the inevitable “2-for-the-price-of-1” solution. Under that option, the top DNC’s top spot would be shared. The duo most talked about at the moment is Webb and Hindery.

A dual-chair format is not unprecedented: The DNC did it three times over the past decade. From 1995 to 1997, Sen. Chris Dodd (Conn.) and Don Fowler served as co-chairs. From 1997 to 1999, Gov. Roy Romer (Colo.) served as general chairman while Steve Grossman was national chairman. And from 1999 to 2001, Ed Rendell was general chairman while Joe Andrew served as national chairman.

But if two heads can be better than one, it is also true that too many cooks spoil the broth. The Democrats would be better off if they could find a single chair who can make the decisions and take the responsibility.

If Democrats want somebody who understands campaign tactics and fundraising, it’s hard to imagine anyone better than Frost. And as one Democratic operative told me recently, “If [former Republican National Committee chairmen] Ed Gillespie and Haley Barbour proved anything, it is that it is more important to raise money and run campaigns than to be on television.”

Frost surely would be an adequate spokesman, but he wouldn’t have to be the party’s only voice. His great strength would be his fundraising ability, political savvy and full-time commitment to rebuilding his party — just the qualities that the Democrats could use.

Stuart Rothenberg is editor of the Rothenberg Political Report.