Rift With Pelosi Hampers Frost

Posted January 31, 2005 at 6:36pm

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) has repeatedly rebuffed former Rep. Martin Frost’s (Texas) attempts to secure her support in his race for the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee, stunting his hopes of emerging as the alternative candidate to frontrunning former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean.

Pelosi and Frost met last week to discuss the persistent talk in Democratic circles that she was telling DNC members and other party officials that it would be difficult for her to work with her former rival if he was elected chairman. The two have met three times since Frost declared his candidacy, and each time Pelosi had refused to support the Texan.

Though Pelosi assured Frost that she had no problem with him as head of the party, her daughter Christine, who is chief of staff to Rep. John Tierney (Mass.), circulated a proposal via e-mail last week that would install Dean as chairman with former Rep. Tim Roemer (Ind.) handling the day-to-day activities of the committee.

For his part, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) has been sounding out labor leaders about the possibility of unifying behind either Frost or political operative Donnie Fowler.

Reid and Frost served together for four years in the House during the 1980s and remain friends, said a Democratic operative.

So far, only House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.) is publicly supporting Frost among the Congressional leadership. Pelosi and Reid urged Roemer to make the contest, but both leaders insist that they are not endorsing any candidate. Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.) is neutral in the contest, a spokesman said Monday.

“This is not personal,” Pelosi spokesman Brendan Daly said when asked about his boss’s relationship with Frost. “She made a decision not to endorse anyone and she thinks that’s the best course of action to take.”

The next chairman of the DNC will be selected Feb. 10-12 at the organization’s winter meeting in Washington, D.C.

Aside from Dean, Frost, Roemer and Fowler, former Ohio party Chairman David Leland and New Democrat Network President Simon Rosenberg are in the contest. Former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb dropped out of the contest Monday and endorsed Dean.

At this point, Dean is the clear frontrunner for the post, with Frost, Fowler and Rosenberg competing to be the anti-Dean candidate.

While Dean has a strong following among DNC members, there remains some lingering concerns, especially within the party establishment, that the former governor and presidential candidate is a liberal lightning rod who could hurt the party’s attempts to reach out to voters in red states.

At first glance, Frost would seem an obvious vessel for the anti-Dean forces.

A former chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Frost has cast himself as an experienced tactician who survived in the “reddest of red states” for more than two decades thanks to his political preparation and moderation.

First elected to a North Texas district in 1978, Frost was defeated by Rep. Pete Sessions (R) in November following a GOP-led redistricting effort in 2003.

Frost seems to have earned Pelosi’s enmity for his abortive run for leader when then-Rep. Richard Gephardt (Mo.) vacated the post following the 2002 election.

In the one-day “race” Frost cast himself as a sensible centrist in contrast to the more liberal Pelosi. Frost had engaged in a months-long behind-the-scenes campaign to paint Pelosi as far to the left of the Caucus, which rankled the Minority Leader, according to Pelosi allies.

A Democratic operative with ties to Frost called Pelosi’s snub of the Texan ironic, given he is a former colleague and the DNC candidate likely to be most “sensitive to the House Democrats” and work on their behalf.

“It’s personal between Pelosi and Frost,” the source said.

Not so, according to one knowledgeable staffer who works for a Pelosi ally who said that past history aside, the Minority Leader simply doesn’t believe Frost is the right choice to steer the party heading into 2006. Many believe Frost lacks the necessary charisma and public speaking ability to lead the DNC.

“If she thought he was the best candidate for the job she would endorse him,” said the Democratic aide.