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Frost Enters DNC Fray

Outgoing Texas Rep. Martin Frost formally announced his campaign late last week for chairman of the Democratic National Committee with a letter to DNC members and a series of follow-up telephone calls, while former Indiana Rep. Tim Roemer remains on the fence about a bid.

As is his style, Frost is already running an extremely aggressive campaign, having made a series of phone calls to DNC delegates over the holidays. He also has a full-time staff running his race for chairman that includes Matt Angle and Tom Eisenhauer, both veterans of Frost’s Congressional operation. Frost lost a bid for a 14th term in November.

“This is a serious race and one that I believe I can win,” Frost said in an interview Monday.

Roemer’s campaign is much less advanced, but he has been urged to consider the race by new Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). The former Indiana Member, who left Congress in 2002, has not made a final decision on a candidacy even though the vote is roughly five weeks away.

“I want to make sure I have an opportunity to listen to the delegates,” Roemer said Monday. “Not a single election has been won or lost in Washington, D.C.”

One strategist familiar with the DNC jockeying said the field could support two candidates with House backgrounds but that “if you are a Congressional candidate you have to figure out how to [convey] an ‘outside Washington’ message.”

Following the 2004 presidential election defeat of Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), many party activists are calling for new leaders not burdened by long ties to Washington.

Aside from the two former Members, former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb and party operatives Donnie Fowler and Simon Rosenberg are in the race. Roemer, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk and former Clinton administration adviser Harold Ickes are mulling bids.

The first of four regional meetings will be Saturday in Atlanta. Both Frost and Roemer plan to attend. Gatherings will also be held in St. Louis on Jan. 15, Sacramento on Jan. 22 and Jan. 29 in New York City.

The race will culminate with a vote by the 447 DNC members during the organization’s winter meeting Feb. 10-12 in Washington, D.C. More so than in cycles past, there is no clear frontrunner, forcing each of the candidates to carve out his own niche of support.

The conventional wisdom in the contest is that if Dean does decide to enter the race, the final choice for DNC members will be between the firebrand former governor and presidential candidate, and an anti-Dean candidate. Frost acknowledged that this scenario was the most likely but said the field was too amorphous to make hard and fast predictions.

Frost is touting his experience as a leader in Congress — especially the two cycles he spent at the helm of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee — as his strongest selling point.

“I know what’s involved in running a major national party committee,” he said.

Frost added that when Texas Republicans redrew the state’s Congressional lines in 2003 he chose to run in an uphill race against Rep. Pete Sessions (R) rather than concede the seat to the GOP.

“I made the decision I was going to stand and fight,” said Frost. “I believe in fighting these people.”

In his letter to delegates, Frost drives that point home, noting that “I’ve gone toe-to-toe with Newt Gingrich, Tom DeLay and the worst the GOP has to offer.”

Frost’s emphasis on his decision to stay and fight is a subtle but clear attempt to discredit Roemer; Republicans picked up Roemer’s seat after he retired in 2000.

Frost would not comment directly on Roemer’s potential bid or the encouragement the former Hoosier Member has received from Reid and Pelosi, though he did say that “assuming Roemer doesn’t run I would hope [the two Congressional leaders] would look favorably on my candidacy.”

Frost briefly challenged Pelosi for party leader in late 2002 but backed out when it became clear he couldn’t win.

Pelosi spokesman Brendan Daly said while the leader was impressed by Roemer’s “security credentials” she also thought Frost would make a solid chairman. Jim Manley, a Reid spokesman, praised Roemer’s “outstanding fundraising, heartland appeal, media skills and solid national security credentials” but emphasized that the Nevada Senator has not yet endorsed any candidate.

A senior party strategist said that the eventual endorsements by Reid and Pelosi are not likely to make a major impact on the final vote.

“Pelosi and Reid don’t really rule with an iron fist over the party right now,” said the source. “This is now the second candidate they are floating.”

Late last year, the two Congressional leaders expressed support for Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack for the job just days before he backed out.

Roemer, who was recommended to serve on the 9/11 commission by Pelosi, said he was “honored” to be urged into the race by both leadership figures and grassroots activists.

“They both matter, but the voters matter most,” said Roemer. “Delegates determine what is working in our campaigns and what is not working well.”

Roemer added that he spends “hours and hours every day talking to delegates,” including those in Colorado and Arkansas — two states that were bright spots in an otherwise dismal year for Congressional Democrats.

Despite his six terms in Congress, Roemer is painting himself as the reformer in the field.

“If [DNC voters] want to reform and change things then I may be the candidate for them,” he said.

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