WASHINGTON -- Senate Democrats and Republicans chose new leaders yesterday who, after the upheaval produced by the midterm elections, promise a sharp change from the old ways of doing business.
Sen. Thomas A. Daschle, 46, of South Dakota, who was elected to be the Democratic minority leader, immediately cut his colleagues loose from President Clinton, whom many Democrats blame for their party's loss of majority status.
"We're not going to be led by them [the White House]," Mr. Daschle said after the closed-door election, which he won by one vote, 24-23, over Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut. "I think it's important for us to establish our own identity."
Traditionally, the leader of the president's party in the Senate has been the point man for the White House agenda on Capitol Hill.
Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski of Maryland was elected secretary of the Democratic Conference, the No. 3 position. She said her post would give her a key role in shaping party positions on issues such as welfare reform. On such issues, Ms. Mikulski said, the White House position would be regarded only as "advisory."
Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas, who has led the Republicans in the majority and in the minority for the past decade, was unchallenged yesterday in his bid to return to the post of majority leader, which he last held in 1986.
But the Republicans, whose ranks have been swelled by nine additional senators, chose to dump Mr. Dole's longtime assistant, Sen. Alan K. Simpson of Wyoming, in favor of the younger, more confrontational Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi.
Mr. Lott, 53, who, like Mr. Daschle, won his race by a single vote (27-26), attributed his victory to the support of the Senate Republican freshmen, many of whom are his close friends from the House, where Mr. Lott served as whip.
"I do think my experience with the House was a factor," said Mr. Lott, who has close ties to Rep. Newt Gingrich, the likely new House speaker.
Another element in the whip contest was the competition between Mr. Dole and Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas, who are both considering running for the 1996 Republican presidential nomination.
Mr. Gramm, who actively backed Mr. Lott, has said that the new whip will effectively serve as "acting majority leader" because he and Mr. Dole would be on the presidential campaign trail so much over the next two years.
In a newspaper interview several days ago, Mr. Simpson said he believed that Mr. Gramm's chief motivation in backing Mr. Lott for the No. 2 position was to make Mr. Dole feel uncomfortable about staying away from the Senate with an assistant who may have his own agenda.
Yesterday, though, Mr. Lott insisted that "this was not a proxy race," and he pledged loyalty to Mr. Dole. "I'll be working with and for Bob Dole," he said.
The soft-spoken Mr. Daschle had been campaigning to lead his fellow Democrats since March, when the current majority leader, George J. Mitchell of Maine, announced that he would not seek re-election to the Senate.
A two-term incumbent, Mr. Daschle was an early front-runner who had the support of Mr. Mitchell and of many of the younger and more junior Democratic members. He also campaigned actively among Democratic Senate candidates in last fall's elections.
But there was an old guard who considered Mr. Daschle too young and not a formidable enough presence to carry the party banner. This group recruited Sen. Jim Sasser of Tennessee to seek the post and then, after Mr. Sasser was defeated in his re-election bid last month, turned to Mr. Dodd.
Particularly after the Democrats lost control of the Senate, the three-term Mr. Dodd, who has a higher national profile than Mr. Daschle, was viewed as a more appropriate counterweight to Senator Dole.
But the personable Mr. Daschle is more popular with fellow senators, and was able to fend off the Dodd challenge by calling on those relationships.
Even so, Mr. Daschle had to work hard over the past three weeks to blur the close ties with the Clinton administration that had earlier been one of his selling points.
"We will judge all proposals, whether they come from the president or from our Republican colleagues, by the test of how well they serve the interests of working people and their families," Mr. Daschle said after the vote.
Sen. Wendell H. Ford of Kentucky, a Senate veteran of four terms, was selected without opposition to continue as Democratic whip, which will be the No. 2 position.
With congressional Democrats as well as Republicans determined to pursue their own individual agendas next year, policy-making appears likely to be a three-way process, in which the White House is merely one part of the triad.