Washington Two House veterans, Reps. Nancy Pelosi and Martin Frost, jumped into a race for Democratic leader on Thursday, and the jabbing began at once over the future of a party reeling from midterm election losses.
"I think that her politics are to the left, and I think that the party, to be successful, must speak to the broad center of the country," said Frost, a Texan whose rival represents most of San Francisco.
Pelosi, judged by party officials to be the front-runner in the race, sidestepped the attack and turned her fire on the GOP instead.
"We must draw clear distinctions between our vision of the future and the extreme policies put forward by the Republicans," she said in a statement. "We cannot allow Republicans to pretend they share our values and then legislate against those values without consequence."
The two began their race as the party's leader, Rep. Richard Gephardt of Missouri, said he would not seek another term in the job he has held for eight years.
Democrats "need a leader for the next two years who can devote his or her undivided attention to putting our party back in the majority," Gephardt said.
"It's time for me personally to take a different direction : and take on this president and the Republican Party from a different vantage point," he added in remarks pointing toward a possible campaign for the White House in 2004.
Later, in an interview in the Capitol office he soon will vacate, the Missouri Democrat said he intended to take the oath of office for a new term next month and had no firm plans beyond that.
"I'll look at running for president," he said, "I've done it before and I know a lot about it."
While Pelosi, 62, and Frost, 60, have served side by side for years, they have charted different courses in the House and taken different positions on recent high-profile issues.
Pelosi, who is her party's senior member on the intelligence committee, voted against legislation that authorized President Bush to use force against Saddam Hussein in Iraq. Frost supported it.
Frost, a former party campaign chairman, was a late, reluctant recruit to the battle for legislation to reduce the role of money in politics, expressing concern about the effect of the law on the party's ability to compete for funds with Republicans. One of Pelosi's first successes as party whip was to round up enough votes to pass the measure.
On another key issue this year, though, the leadership rivals both voted against legislation strengthening Bush's ability to negotiate international trade deals.
Several party aides said Pelosi, who won an eighth term from her California district this week, begins the leadership race as the favorite.
Frost was elected from his Dallas-area district for a 13th term on Tuesday. In addition to his current leadership post, he was in charge of the party's redistricting effort over the past two years.