House Democrats don't matter much to GOP leaders, but they matter a lot to their party's presidential hopefuls. The 205 Democratic House members are automatic delegates to the party's national convention in 2004.
Rep. Richard A. Gephardt (Mo.), the former House minority leader, has a whip team of roughly a dozen members, and they have begun talking to other House Democrats about backing Gephardt's campaign.
But some lawmakers are keeping their powder dry, such as Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.). "I haven't decided yet," said Capps. "Recognizing [Gephardt has] done almost everything for me, it's totally appropriate for him to do it."
Both Gephardt and Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) put in calls to Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.), who plans to meet with both men. "All you have is your endorsement," Thompson said. "People want to make sure that endorsement goes to the best candidate, who will be the best president."
"People aren't rushing to make a decision, which is fine," said Steve Elmendorf, a senior Gephardt campaign adviser.
Edwards spokeswoman Jennifer Palmieri acknowledged Gephardt's internal advantage. She said Edwards is "reaching out to a handful of House members that we think are allied with John on the issues." While many might have long-standing ties to Gephardt, she said, others may base their endorsement on ideological grounds.
While Gephardt is actively wooing his colleagues, Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich (D-Ohio), the only other presidential hopeful in the House, is not making the rounds. Kucinich spokesman Doug Gordon said Kucinich "is not seeking the support of anyone yet."
Rep. Bob Filner (D-Calif.) said he is surprised Kucinich has not at least made an effort to address the House Progressive Caucus, an audience that would be inclined to give him a sympathetic hearing.
"When I look at these guys, I'm thinking of running," Filner quipped. "I would do a better job."
Line of Succession
In the push to create the Homeland Security Department and approve Tom Ridge as its secretary, Congress overlooked a detail: where to put the newest Cabinet member in the line of presidential succession.
Now, two Republican lawmakers are hoping to change that with a pair of bills that would place Ridge ahead of most of his colleagues in the line of potential successors, should the president be killed or otherwise incapacitated. The measures, sponsored by Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (Va.) and Sen. Mike DeWine (Ohio), would place Ridge fifth in line among the 15 Cabinet secretaries -- and eighth overall, behind the vice president, the speaker of the House and the Senate's president pro tem.
The proposals, first noted by the newspaper Roll Call, break with a long-standing tradition of adding secretaries to the list in the order in which their agencies were founded. So, instead of being last, Ridge would land behind the heads of the State Department, the Treasury Department and the Defense Department, and the attorney general. He would be followed, in descending order, by the secretaries of the interior, agriculture, commerce, labor, health and human services, housing and urban development, transportation, energy, education and, finally, veterans affairs.
The lawmakers' aides said the break with tradition is appropriate, given the prominence and importance of the agency's mission. "No disrespect to any current and former secretary of education," said a spokesman for Davis. "But, certainly, the presence of the homeland security secretary . . . would have a more calming affect on the country during a national emergency."
Political researcher Brian Faler contributed to this report.