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“Gephardt could try to hang on long enough to serve as Speaker if the Democrats retake the House, but we’ve seen numbers that indicate that isn’t going to happen,” says a Democratic Caucus staffer. “Regardless of whether Gephardt assumes the speakership, there is still the leader position and that’s between Frost and Pelosi.”
Pelosi has been considered the frontrunner, in part because of her liberal politics, which match up more favorably with the sentiments of House Democrats. Indeed, she’s already the highest ranking woman in House history.
But since becoming whip, Pelosi has made a number of missteps. Over objections of key colleagues she initially endorsed Rep. Gary Condit re-election bid. She disrespected powerhouse Rep. John Dingell by backing fellow-female Rep. Lynn Rivers after both Michigan Democrats found themselves running in the same, newly partitioned congressional district. At a party retreat early this year, she alienated colleagues by lecturing them about how they’d win elections more handily if they hired people like her California political consultants — whom she allowed to speak at the event. Her TV appearances on behalf of the party have been marred by gaffes and miscues.
“You know the look a dog has when it’s paddling in water that’s a little too deep for it, and it’s struggling to keep its head above water?” asks a Democratic House member who supports Frost for the leadership post. “That’s the look Pelosi seems to have all the time now.”
While Pelosi backers say she continues to have a strong base of support, they also say she has redoubled her fundraising efforts on behalf of House colleagues who might go over to Frost if the two face off.
Fundraising is the key reason why Frost is able to challenge Pelosi at all. “He’s raised so much money for Democratic House candidates over the years,” says the caucus staffer. “That still means something, and he’s banking on it helping down the road.”
Frost has also made an effort to take more liberal positions than he would have in prior congressional sessions. “Martin wants that leadership slot pretty bad,” says the House member who’s backing him. “It’s an uphill fight, but he’s fortunate his competitor is someone like Pelosi and not someone like Gephardt. That at least gives him a chance.”
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