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2 Candidates in the Running for House Minority Leader Position - 2002-11-09

A Democratic lawmaker from the state of California says she has enough support from her party to become the new leader of the minority Democrats in the House of Representatives. If formally selected in balloting next week, Nancy Pelosi would become the first woman to become leader of either party in either house of Congress.

The jockeying for power reflects differences between ideological wings of the party over the course Democrats should take to repair the damage from the mid-term elections.

Nancy Pelosi, a liberal who represents San Francisco, has been minority "whip," the second-ranking Democrat in the House. She was the front-runner even before Missouri Congressman Dick Gephardt announced he was stepping down as minority leader. In a news conference Friday in California, Mrs. Pelosi says she has support from a majority of House Democrats who she says chose her because of her leadership abilities.

"I think it says everything about our seriousness to be rigorous in our understanding of the economic issues, in putting forth our message, to be rigorous in winning the elections, and to be rigorous in making the future better for the American people. And I take their vote of confidence as a compliment to me as a leader, as an organizer and a person committed to Democratic values," she said.

Mrs. Pelosi received a boost Friday when the strongest challenger, Texas Democrat Martin Frost, withdrew from the race. He had announced his candidacy only a day earlier, saying Mrs. Pelosi could alienate conservative and moderate Democrats.

A last minute challenge to Mrs. Pelosi has been launched by Congressman Harold Ford, a 32-year-old African-American from the southern state of Tennessee. He emphasized that Democrats need what he calls "radical change."

"We as Democrats have to offer something more than 'no, no, no' or 'you won't, you won't, you won't.' I think the American people want us to stand up and say no, but they also want an alternative," he said. "And I don't believe what we have seen the last few years, or at least in my short time in Congress, is really been representative of any kind of meaningful alternate."

Mrs. Pelosi says she is not worried about the challenge from Mr. Ford, saying she has confirmed support from a majority of Democrats in the House.

The senior Democrat on the House intelligence committee, Mrs. Pelosi has been a strong supporter of the war on terrorism, but voted against the resolution authorizing President Bush to take military action against Iraq.

She says she will continue to support the president whenever possible, but will not hesitate to take a stand against administration positions when necessary.

"The Democrats must seek our common ground for the good of the American people. But where we do not have our common ground, we must stand our ground," she said. "And I will work with my colleagues to develop that message from everyone from across the spectrum in the Democratic party in the caucus in the House."

Meanwhile, there appears to be no contest for Democrat party leadership in the Senate, where Tom Daschle of South Dakota is seeking another two-year term as Democratic leader but now in the minority after the mid-term election.

Mr. Daschle told reporters: "We intend to work closely with the president when we think he's right, but stand up and fight for our principles when we think he's wrong."