Frost Taking DNC Case to Members

Posted December 3, 2004 at 6:19pm

Outgoing Rep. Martin Frost (D-Texas) is reaching out to key Congressional leaders as he attempts to rally support for his nascent bid to chair the Democratic National Committee.

Frost has met with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to discuss the possibility of a run; he has also talked to New York Reps. Charlie Rangel (D) and Gregory Meeks (D), two key members of the Congressional Black Caucus.

“He has been a member of the House for so many years that he is talking to people he has confidence in,” explained Frost spokeswoman Susan McAvoy. “It is a natural thing for him to do.”

While those close to the Texas Congressman are quick to note that Frost has not sought nor has he received formal endorsements from any interest groups within the House Caucus, they do believe there is significant excitement for a candidacy among his colleagues.

Rep. Charlie Gonzalez (D), a member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and a fellow Texan, said that “Members appreciate [Frost’s] expertise.”

Rep. Mike Ross (D-Ark.), the newly elected whip of the conservative Blue Dog Coalition, said that Frost “understands the dynamics involved in trying to help us secure a majority in the House and Senate.”

Pelosi has largely stayed out of the fray, however, and is likely to continue to do so unless there is a significant mandate for Frost within the Caucus.

“Pelosi is not focused on one candidate,” said a Democratic aide. “She believes that whoever gets the chairmanship should focus on Congressional and gubernatorial elections.”

In addition to her conversation with Frost, Pelosi has also met with former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean about his interest in the post and spoken by phone with other candidates, according to knowledgeable sources.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) has not yet talked personally with Frost about the DNC job, said one informed Democrat.

Dean was in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, ostensibly for the Democratic Governors Association meeting, but he was also spotted in the Russell Senate Office Building early in the day.

Laura Gross, a spokeswoman for Dean’s Democracy for America group, would not comment on any other meetings the former governor had scheduled.

Aside from Frost and Dean, former Clinton White House Deputy Chief of Staff Harold Ickes, former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb, former Michigan Gov. Jim Blanchard, outgoing Louisiana Sen. John Breaux, former South Carolina Gov. Jim Hodges, New Democrat Network President Simon Rosenberg, New York-based mega-donor Leo Hindery and Donnie Fowler, who led Sen. John Kerry’s (Mass.) presidential effort in Michigan, are also mentioned for the job.

The first winnowing of this list will come later this week at the annual meeting of the Association of State Democratic Chairs in Orlando, Fla.

Dean, Rosenberg, Fowler and Hindery will all appear in front of the group to make their case. Frost has yet to decide whether he will attend.

Most observers see the race for chairman as wide open and give Frost as good a chance as any of the other candidates mentioned.

“The advantage any candidate has is if they start running and signing people up,” said one senior Democratic strategist. “One thing we know about Frost is that he is extremely detail-oriented and thorough.”

First elected to a north Texas Congressional seat in 1978, Frost has been in the upper echelons of House leadership for almost a decade.

He headed up the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in the 1996 and 1998 cycles, led Democrats’ national redistricting efforts in 2000 and also served as the Caucus chairman during that time.

Shortly after the 2002 election, Frost ran an abbreviated campaign for House Minority Leader but dropped out when it became clear that Pelosi had the votes.

Thanks to re-redistricting in Texas, which was engineered by House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas), Frost saw his 24th district divided among a number of other seats, and eventually chose to run against Rep. Pete Sessions (R) in November.

Frost lost that race 54 percent to 44 percent.

Frost’s longtime representation of a district with significant black and Hispanic populations has established a strong connection between the Texas lawmaker and those minority groups, argue his allies.

Blacks and Hispanics make up a substantial bloc among DNC voters.

“You cannot be chair of the DNC without significant African-American support and an understanding of their political communities,” said one party source. “Frost understands the black/Hispanic political dynamic.”

Perhaps the biggest factor working against Frost is his ties to official Washington; many DNC members and party leaders have expressed a desire to go outside of the Beltway to select the leader of the party in hopes of making inroads in “red” America.

And in the end, whatever support Frost is able to accrue from Congress could be of little practical advantage as few Members are also DNC voters, and those who do have a vote are not easily swayed by Congressional pressures.

“Most of those people don’t care about what Nancy Pelosi or Harry Reid … think,” said one Democratic source familiar with the process.