Two state Republicans may seek congressional leadership positions

Posted on September 29, 2005

Two Tennessee Congress members said they are seeking leadership positions in the U.S. Senate and House in 2006. U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said Wednesday he hopes to win the Senate Republican leadership's second-highest post. Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, R-Tenn., said he talked to Republicans on Wednesday about running for House majority whip. The position is held by Rep. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., who was named to replace Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Texas, as majority leader. Rep. DeLay was indicted in Texas on Wednesday. Sen. Alexander said he spent last spring and summer talking to the Senate's 55 Republicans about his interest in becoming the next majority whip. The leadership post is expected to become available after Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., leaves office after the 2006 elections. Majority Whip Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is expected to succeed Sen. Frist in the top spot, according to The Hill, a Washington newspaper. Sen. Frist has been named as a potential presidential candidate in 2008. Norm Ornstein, a congressional scholar with the American Enterprise Institute, said the person Sen. Alexander has to beat for the whip post is Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa. "If he wins re-election he has to be the front-runner," Mr. Ornstein said of Sen. Santorum, who faces a re-election battle next fall. Sen. Santorum said he has talked with Sen. Alexander about the whip position. "I welcome anyone who believes they can make a contribution," he said. "I feel good about my chances, but Senator Alexander brings a lot to the table." Sen. Alexander called Sen. Santorum and said he would help the Pennsylvanian retain his Senate seat. But Sen. Alexander said it is too early to call the whip race. "Senator Santorum has some commitments, and I have some commitments," Sen. Alexander said. "But the majority of senators have remained undecided. I think it is a wide-open race." The majority whip, elected by colleagues from the same party, serves as an assistant to the floor leader. The whip is responsible for mobilizing votes from party members on major issues and fills in as acting floor leader. Sen. Alexander said the position "seems to be the place I could make the greatest contribution both to the people who sent me here and to Republicans." "I would have a bigger voice, and therefore Tennessee would have a more effective voice," he said. Sen. Alexander, a former Tennessee governor and U.S. education secretary, said he has no ambitions beyond becoming the whip. "My model is (Vice President) Dick Cheney, who has been a big help for President Bush because he hasn't been angling in for the top job," Sen. Alexander said. Mr. Ornstein said Sen. Alexander was patient and stayed in the background since his election in 2002. "He has avoided jumping out in front of the cameras and has been a loyal soldier since he's been in the Senate," Mr. Ornstein said. "He's been a worker bee. A workhorse." Rep. Wamp said he is prepared to seek to replace Rep. Blunt as House Republican whip. "I certainly am planning on running for the majority whip position if it continues to be an open position in the House Republican leadership," Rep. Wamp said. Rep. Wamp said the reshuffling of Republican house leadership positions would be temporary with an election to come in January. Rep. Wamp said he got about two dozen Republican House members to sign a letter Wednesday asking for immediate elections for open leadership positions, but later agreed with House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., to postpone elections for the sake of party unity. Copyright 2005 Chattanooga Publishing Company