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  • Key Stories: The GOP Leadership Fight

  •   Senate GOP Reelects Lott, Other Top Leaders

    By Helen Dewar
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Wednesday, December 2, 1998; Page A04

    Senate Republicans yesterday quelled a mini-revolt over the results of last month's elections and handily reelected their current leaders, who promised renewed efforts to pass a strong legislative agenda and sell it to the American people.

    In the Senate GOP's only contested race, Sen. Mitch McConnell (Ky.), who became the target of some members' frustrations when the party failed to pick up any seats, easily won a second term as chairman of the party's senatorial campaign committee. By a vote of 39 to 13, McConnell turned aside a challenge by freshman Sen. Chuck Hagel (Neb.), who accused the leadership of failing to give candidates a strong platform and urged the party to turn away from negative campaigning.

    Majority Leader Trent Lott (Miss.) was reelected without opposition, as were other members of the current leadership, a stark contrast with the post-election purge of Republican leadership ranks in the House, where the GOP's loss of five seats resulted in the retirement of Speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.) and the defeat of two other leaders.

    Lott campaigned actively for McConnell, making the vote something of a referendum on Lott's leadership and continuing rivalry with Assistant Majority Leader Don Nickles (Okla.). Nickles took no formal stand in the McConnell-Hagel race but was viewed by colleagues as sympathetic to Hagel.

    Hagel said he thought he made his point but added, "I guess there isn't much dissatisfaction."

    The McConnell-Hagel race also drew attention because of McConnell's prominent role in opposing campaign finance legislation and his upcoming elevation to chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, which has jurisdiction over such measures. Some critics have questioned the propriety of his also serving as the Senate GOP's chief fund-raiser.

    Senate Democrats had it even easier. Minority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (S.D.) was reelected without opposition, and Sen. Harry M. Reid (Nev.) ran unopposed to succeed retiring Sen. Wendell H. Ford (Ky.) in the No. 2 post of party whip. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (Md.) was reelected to the third-ranking post of conference secretary.

    Daschle named Sen. Robert G. Torricelli (N.J.) to succeed Sen. Bob Kerrey (Neb.) as chairman of the Democrats' campaign committee, with Sen. Patty Murray (Wash.) designated as vice chairman. Kerrey served two terms and is up for reelection in 2000. He is also considering a bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. Torricelli served under Kerrey on the committee for the last two years.

    While Hagel's 13 votes against McConnell were disappointing to some leadership critics, they took solace from assurances by Lott, McConnell and others that the party would focus on developing, passing and selling a voter-friendly agenda.

    McConnell said in an interview his election was "not about sending a message . . . because we've already gotten the message," including the need for a "more aggressive pursuit of our agenda."

    "One of the things we have learned is that we must make sure that we have an agenda that reflects what the American people believe in and want, and I think we do," Lott said after the vote. "But I think we have got to do a better job in explaining that agenda and telling the people the things we did do."

    Lott also pledged cooperation with the White House and congressional Democrats and vowed that Congress will "get its basic work done, including passing a budget" -- a reference to lapses that enabled President Clinton to score victories in negotiations over a catchall spending bill this fall. Lott called for an across-the-board tax cut and "a fairer, simpler tax code" along with an emphasis on economic growth and education.

    Daschle welcomed Lott's pledge of cooperation and said Democrats' top priority will be Social Security.

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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