A former 26-year congressman from President Bush's home state is seeking to lead the beleaguered national Democratic Party, and a former Dallas mayor is considering a run as well.
Outgoing U.S. Rep. Martin Frost of Arlington and former Dallas mayor Ron Kirk are among eight possible candidates for the Democratic National Committee chairmanship invited to address a prominent Democratic group this week.
Democrats are hoping to find someone to revive the party, which has lost two straight presidential elections and remain the minority in Congress. They want a leader who can draw more minorities, win more congressional seats in 2006 and get more voters to the polls.
The eight invited to speak at the Association of State Democratic Chairs meeting beginning Thursday in Orlando, Fla., will have their first opportunity to address rank-and-file party activists. Frost accepted the invitation, signaling he is pursuing the job. Kirk said he would decide whether to go this week.
The group includes 112 chairs and vice chairs of parties of U.S. states territories. The group makes up one-fourth of the 447-member DNC, which will elect a new chairman Feb. 12. Chairman Terry McAuliffe is not seeking another term.
Others invited to address the group are former Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean, former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb, political strategist Donnie Fowler, former Clinton adviser Harold Ickes and New York businessman Leo Hindery.
The two Texans have experienced the erosion of Democratic power.
Frost lost his Dallas-area House seat in the Nov. 2 election after he was forced into a race with GOP incumbent Rep. Pete Sessions by a 2003 Republican-friendly redistricting plan in Texas. Kirk lost his 2002 Senate race to Republican John Cornyn in a year when the GOP won every statewide elected office.
But the two also have had political success.
Frost was chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which focuses on electing House members, from 1995 to 1998. He raised $80 million — then a record amount of contributions — and Democrats picked up nine House seats in 1996 and five in 1998, he said.
"Those are the only times since 1990 that the House Democrats have picked up any significant number of seats," Frost said.
"Clearly we need to be competitive across the country, and we need to take steps and rebuild state parties," he said, declining to detail how he would revive the party.
Kirk, Dallas' first black mayor, had widespread appeal among minorities, the business community and people of both parties.
His legacy in the nation's ninth-largest city includes big projects such as a $420 million sports arena and the redevelopment of blighted south Dallas. He served as Texas' secretary of state under a still-popular Democrat, former Gov. Ann Richards.
After his 2002 loss, Kirk said he hoped the party would become devoted to building prosperity providing opportunity for "have-nots." He said then that Democrats needed to "convince America we can be the party of compassion and prosperity."
Mark Brewer, president of the Association of State Democratic Chairs, said he wants the national group to be more involved in all states, not just "battleground" states.
"State after state, like Texas, gets written off election after election," he said. "That doesn't help the party in that state's down-ballot races. The national party should be working with state parties. If you do that in the next three and half years, you can turn these red states, where it's possible, for a Democratic candidate to win them."
Texas Democratic Party Chairman Charles Soechting, who will be at the meeting, declined to say who he wants in the job. But he said he'll be listening for who "is most interested in channeling resources to red states."
Soechting has been highly critical of the national party, saying it treated Texas like an ATM machine during the presidential election, using it for fund raising but doing little campaigning there. He said the national party has put only $380,000 into Texas since 1990.
"We have healthy states undernourished and every year become weaker and weaker," he said.