WASHINGTON -- Senators expect to elect Wendell H. Ford, D-Ky., to replace Alan Cranston, D-Calif., as Senate majority whip in leadership elections today, as lesser-known lawmakers from both parties seek a bigger say over party policies and agenda.
The biennial ritual in Congress of electing, or re-electing, leaders is beginning, and the outcome will determine who oversees legislation in the 102nd Congress, which convenes in January.
Meanwhile, lawmakers from both parties are viewing with particular interest a series of contests over who will head Senate and House campaign committees.
These positions tend to be steppingstones to more national exposure and a chance at national office.
Another series of votes involves a group of conservative Republicans in the Senate, jockeying for several leadership positions against senators who are considered liberal or moderate. This conservative group may struggle to gain a stronger voice in the Republican Party, particularly since the party's top posts in the Senate are firmly held by two moderates, Robert Dole of Kansas, the leader, and Alan K. Simpson of Wyoming, the whip.
"I think you will find less struggle among Democrats because they are the party in power and they are happy with their image that emerged from the end of the 101st Congress," said Thomas E. Mann, director of governmental studies at the Brookings Institution in Washington.
On the Democratic side, Ford, a 15-year veteran of the Senate known primarily as an old-school, deal-making senator who has skillfully protected the tobacco, liquor, racing and coal interests of his home state, will apparently be unchallenged in his bid for the Senate's No. 2 position, replacing Cranston.
Officially, the post of whip is designed to monitor party sentiment on important issues, count votes and lobby wavering lawmakers.
But in the past two years, some senators say, the job of whip and the role played by Cranston have diminished, largely because of the hands-on style of George J. Mitchell of Maine, the majority leader.
In the House, which holds elections in caucuses from Dec. 3 to Dec. 5, most of the leaders are expected to go unchallenged, including the House Speaker, Thomas S. Foley, Democrat of Washington; the majority leader, Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri; the majority whip, William H. Gray III of Pennsylvania, and the Republican leader, Robert H. Michel of Illinois.
But some moderate Republicans are predicting a shake-up for Georgia's Newt Gingrich, the conservative Republican whip. There is speculation that Rep. Jerry Lewis, a moderate from California and the No. 3 Republican in the House, might mount such a challenge.