Early Frost

Just one day after entering the race for House minority leader, Rep. Martin Frost (D-Texas) dropped out and threw his support to House Minority Whip Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). Frost's decision came as Rep. Harold Ford Jr. (D-Tenn.) announced his intention to run against Pelosi for leader, although it is widely expected that Pelosi will win the top job.

Should Pelosi win the Nov. 14 vote, which will be conducted by secret ballot, it could be the first signal as to which strategy Democrats will pursue as they try to unseat President Bush in 2004 and regain control of Congress.

Unlike Frost, Pelosi represents the party's liberal base. Last month, she stood up to both the Bush administration and House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.) in opposing the resolution giving Bush authority to take military action against Iraq. Earlier this year, she favored Rep. Lynn Rivers (D-Mich.) in her primary race against Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.). Rivers, the more liberal of the two candidates, also represents one of Pelosi's (and the Democratic Party's) core constituencies: women.

Pelosi, who has served in Congress since 1987 and hails from San Francisco, has championed issues like AIDS funding and women's rights and staunchly opposed China's human rights record. Emphasizing such issues will be key if Democrats want to energize their base to turn out for the 2004 elections.

Since becoming whip in January, Pelosi has raised millions of dollars for Democratic candidates and criss-crossed the country to appear with them. She also showed her leadership skills by using some shrewd tactics as whip. Pelosi mended fences with Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and his supporters after she beat him out for the post last year; Hoyer, who is running for the job again, is likely to win next week. And Pelosi siphoned support from Frost in the Texas delegation by making Rep. Max Sandlin (D-Texas) one of her chief deputy whips.

Heading into the elections, Democrats took a gamble on whether to stick to their principles or support the president. In the House, at least, they seem to have made the decision that the best way to win votes is by maintaining their ideals.

Mary Lynn F. Jones is a Prospect senior editor.

For Tapped's take on the unfolding Ford-Pelosi battle, click here.