GOP leadership hopefuls hunt for votes
Talent drops out of runningNovember 8, 1998
Web posted at: 4:24 p.m. EST (2124 GMT)
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WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, November 8) -- In the two days since Newt Gingrich made his stunning announcement that he will step down as House speaker, the Republicans vying for leadership positions have been busy working the phones in a frantic hunt for votes, while keeping an eye out for potential competitors not yet in the race.
Rep. Bob Livingston (R-Louisiana), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, is considered the frontrunner to fill Gingrich's shoes as speaker. "I will be the next speaker, I believe. I have over a 100 votes or so now, and I need 112, and I'll have them probably in the next few days," Livingston told ABC's "This Week."
Livingston addressed some of his critics within the party, who argue that he is too willing to compromise with Democrats. "I intend to reach out and bring anyone who wants to, together to formulate the legislation that we need that will enhance the quality of life for all citizens, but under Republican guidelines," he said.
Trying to rob Livingston of the remaining votes is Rep. Christopher Cox (R-California). "It's sort of like an Easter- egg hunt," said Cox Saturday. "It's whoever gets the Easter egg first."
Rep. James Talent(R-Missouri), who had indicated he might also run for speaker, decided not to do so Sunday and will throw his support behind Livingston, sources told CNN.
All vote commitments are considered fluid as GOP hopefuls have until November 18 to shore up their support when the Republican conference will meet and vote for its leadership by secret ballot.
With his party thrown in turmoil since they lost five house seats in last Tuesday's midterm election, Gingrich Saturday urged the GOP to unite: "The prospect of Al Gore as president and a Democratic Congress should be enough to focus every Republican in the country." Gingrich returned to Washington Sunday from his home in Georgia.
Livingston echoed the sentiment, and said with him as speaker that Republican nightmare would not happen. "We are the majority -- have been the majority for the last four years, thanks to my friend Newt Gingrich ... But the problem is we are loosing momentum. And what we don't want to do is be a minority party in two years and my speakers race was integral to our keeping the majority party."
Livingston's campaign received a boost from House Whip Tom DeLay (R-Texas), who announced his support for Livingston. DeLay, the No. 3 Republican leader, is considered the only safe member of the leadership. One of the House's master vote counters, no one has challenged DeLay yet.
The No. 2 Republican, Rep. Dick Armey (R-Texas) does not plan to seek the top job, sources told CNN. Instead, he will fight to be re-elected to his current majority leader post against Rep. Steve Largent (R-Oklahoma), who has been aggressively campaigning since Friday to replace Armey.
Largent has been working the phones and told "Fox News Sunday" that he has received firm commitments from half off the 100 or so members he had spoken with over the weekend.
For the Republican party to succeed, Largent said, it must craft "a solid agenda, that we can unify behind" that emphasizes education, preserves Social Security while getting back "to the blocking and tackling of the Republican party -- limited government, lower taxes, strong defense."
While the football metaphors are a reminder of his National Football League glory days, Largent is also selling his telegenic appeal, arguing that any Republican agenda can only be communicated to the public by a "likeable and believable messenger."
But there may be another articulate and well-respected contender waiting in the wings to play that role. Rep. Jennifer Dunn (R-Washington), the vice chairman of the House Republican Conference said Sunday she is also considering a bid for majority leader.
"I think it was the right thing for him (Gingrich) to do and now a whole generation of new faces are going to come on the scene and be able to talk to the American people, more importantly listen to them," said Dunn on NBC's "Meet The Press." "I think the message that we should have learned from this election is that we need to focus more on basic principles."
Dunn is more moderate than Largent and is also viewed by many of her colleagues as more of a team player. The conservative Oklahoma representative has frequently defied the GOP leadership over the past two years.
But Largent insists as majority leader he would be willing to put the Republican conference's agenda ahead of his own. "You have to check your own ego, check your own agenda at the door. Now you're an officer of the conference," he said on "Fox News Sunday."
The No. 4 position in the leadership is Republican Conference chairman and was held in the 105th Congress by Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio). But Boehner will have to fight to hold onto the position in the next session as Reps. J.C. Watts (R-Oklahoma) and George Radanovich (R-California) have both announced challenges.
Watts said the Tuesday election was the motivation for him to throw in his hat. "When you lose market share, which we've done in '96 and '98, I felt like you need to look at everything from the CEO to the janitor," he said on "This Week."
And I am making myself available, and announce my candidacy, to become the next chairman of the conference to give people an opportunity to look at what I'm proposing to do ... and let them have the choice."
The only African-American Republican in the House, Watts said he was unsure if that fact would be helpful in his bid for conference chairman. But he did urge his party to reach out to minority voters. "I feel like I've been beating my head against a wall for the last four years in saying 'We've got to reach out. We've got to go to those non-traditional communities and say, these are our values, these are our principles."
Though he praised Republican accomplishments in the past four years, Boehner was careful to put some distance between himself and Gingrich, saying that two of them have disagreed in the past. He also criticized the party's lack of an agenda.
"When there's no agenda and no real message what happens is you can't really have a message. You can put lipstick on a pig all you day long but it's still a pig," Boehner said on "This Week."
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