House minority leader John Rhodes (R-Ariz.) says he thinks attempts to win over Republican freshmen dissatisfied with his leadership have been successful and he will probably run for reelection.
He will make a formal announcement in December, Rhodes said this week, and added, "I'm leaning more towards running than not."
Earlier this year, Rhodes' low-key style of leadership ran into a flurry of criticism from fired-up Republican freshmen and militant conservatives. They felt Rhodes wan't taking agressive stands on issues and was too often absent when there were fights on the floor. They hinted they might look for a different leader in 1980.
Rhodes contributed to rumors that he might not run again when he indicated in an interview in the Phoenix Gazette that he was seriously considering making this his last term.
"At that moment I was leaning towards not running, but it didn't last," Rhodes told reporters this week.
Recently he has been more encouraged as Republicans have showed more unity on votes, such as a budget vote on which not a single Republican defected.
"What I've been trying to do has met with more approval," Rhodes said. He has been spending more time on the floor speaking out on issues, such as energy, and participating in floor fights. "This sort of thing has given an impression of leadership that wasn't there before," he said.
Rhodes, 63 years old, was first elected to Congress in 1952, and was elected leader by House Republicans in 1973.
Rhodes said opposition to his reelection as minority leader in the next Congress was "possible" but not "noticeable" now.
However, a Republican source said, "there's definitely going to be opposition. If he doesn't believe there's going to be opposition, he hasn't done any nose counting.It's naive. He's come back to life a little bit, but just because he's decided to get back into the fray doesn't mean he's home free."
Rhodes' problems began early in the year when he refused to endorse a favorite proposal of the freshman -- a constitutional amendment to limit federal spending or balance the budget. Later he changed his stand.
Freshman dissatisfaction reached its peak in June when the first-termers ran a protest candidate, Rep. Henry Hyde (Ill.), for the No. 3 leadership spot of Republican conference chairman. Hyde lost by three votes to Rep. Sam Devine (Ohio), but the narrowness of the vote was considered a warning to the leadership.
It also started talk that Hyde, Repbulican Whip Robert Michel (Ill.) or Republican campaign committee chairman Guy Vander Jagt (Mich.) might challenge Rhodes for the miniority leadership.
Since then Rhodes has been playing to the younger, more conservative members. He sharply criticizied those Republicans, mostly moderates and liberals, who voted for a bill to put limits on campagin contributions to House members. His criticism brought a stinging letter from moderate Rep. Peter McCloskey (R-Calif.) demanding an apology.
Rhodes fought for a "budget of hope" the freshman wanted presented as an alternative to the Democratic budget, and he took the floor to blast President Carter for inaction on energy.
But Rhodes does not endorse the newest freshman idea, pushed by Rep. Newt Gingrich (Ga.) -- forming a coalition with conservative Democrats aimed at electing a coalition speaker to run the House.
"I suspect that's not really possible," Rhodes said. Democrats might vote with Republicans on issues, he said, but they would vote with their party enough to ensure good committee assignments and chairmanships.
On the other hand, Rhodes was skeptical of efforts by Democratic leaders to hold more-conservative Democrats in line with closed rules and other measures. "I don't think they can be even moderately successful," he said. Those Democrats "vote with us not because they want to vote Republican but because they have Republican districts."
Rhodes admitted that, as a leader, "I don't twist arms very well. I don't threaten worth a hoot." But he added, "I think my talent is to get a consensus. There my efforts are bearing fruit."