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Democrats look to Pelosi for change

As her rival bows out, California representative will be first woman to lead a party in Congress.

Compiled from Times wires

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 9, 2002

As her rival bows out, California representative will be first woman to lead a party in Congress.

WASHINGTON -- House Democrats appear poised to elect Nancy Pelosi of California, a liberal with extensive experience in budgetary and intelligence matters, to succeed Richard Gephardt as House minority leader.

Pelosi says she has public commitments from 111 Democratic House members, which would give her enough votes to win. Democrats will hold 203 seats during the next session.

Her campaign received a boost Friday afternoon when her main rival for the job, moderate Rep. Martin Frost of Texas, concluded he didn't have the votes and bowed out, endorsing her. Frost's failure prompted one of the youngest members of Congress, 32-year-old Harold Ford Jr. of Tennessee, to enter the race.

Pelosi discounted Ford's last-minute campaign and declared the race over.

"I have had such an outpouring of support from my colleagues in the House wanting to work together to formulate a strong Democratic message on growing the economy, investing in education, investing in infrastructure for our country," she said.

Pelosi, 62, the House minority whip and a tireless campaign fundraiser, will become the first woman to lead either party in either chamber if her Democratic colleagues formally elect her Thursday. Her ascension signals the decision by a majority of House Democrats -- many of them liberals elected in the 1970s and '80s -- to take a more aggressive stand against Bush administration policies, especially regarding foreign policy and the economy.

Pelosi and most House Democrats opposed a congressional resolution last month that gave President Bush a green light to attack Iraq if he concludes it is necessary to dismantle nuclear and biological weapons being developed by President Saddam Hussein.

Gephardt, by contrast, went to the White House and helped the administration draft the resolution that ultimately prevailed.

Pelosi said that while she will work with the White House and GOP leaders where possible, "I look forward to competing with them" on a range of issues, particularly the economy and tax policy, where Democrats believe Bush may be most vulnerable in the 2004 election.

"I have worked shoulder to shoulder with President Bush on the war on terrorism since 9/11 and will continue to do so," said Pelosi, the senior Democrat on the Select Committee on Intelligence and a member of the Appropriations Committee. "The Democrats must seek common ground (with Republicans) for the good of the American people. But where we do not have our common ground, we must stand our ground."

Pelosi's support was mostly drawn from the liberal wing of the caucus, although there were a few exceptions. She has commitments from seven members of the Blue Dog Coalition, a group of 32 moderate and conservative Democrats.

Yet some Democrats continued to contend Friday that Pelosi is too liberal to lead the party against Republicans, who now control both houses of Congress and the White House.

Liberals contend the Democratic Party needs to reconnect with its base and stop hovering in the middle. But party moderates say Democrats suffered enormous losses Tuesday because the party leadership didn't present a viable alternative to the vision laid out by the Bush White House.

"Democrats were unable to say that when we return to Congress, here's what we're going to do," Ford said Friday, while announcing his belated bid to replace Gephardt. "I think we were rejected because we didn't offer a course in which we would lead the nation."

He argued Democrats need "a new generation of leadership" and noted that almost half of House Democrats, including himself, had never served in the majority. Although he will spend the weekend glued to the telephone, trying to wrest support away from Pelosi, Ford is not expected to have much success.

Pelosi showed no concern about Ford's objections.

"I don't think they chose me as an outspoken San Francisco liberal; I think they chose me as a person who can lead the caucus to victory, as a person who can build coalitions among the various segments of our caucus and as a person who represents various points of views within the caucus," she said.

After 15 years in Congress, Pelosi is the second-ranking House Democratic leader and has been active in raising money for other members.

Her leadership PAC contributed almost $1-million to candidates during this election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Pelosi comes from a family of politicians. She grew up in Maryland, where both her father and brother served as mayor of Baltimore. She moved to San Francisco with her husband, Paul, and they have five children and five grandchildren. She served as a California Democratic national committeewoman for 20 years before being elected to Congress in 1987.

In the Senate, the Democratic leadership won't change.

Sen. Tom Daschle of South Dakota said Friday that he will seek another two-year term as leader and is expected to win easily.

-- Information from the Washington Post, Cox News Service and Associated Press was used in this report.

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