Livingston out front in House speaker's race Only other candidate expected to withdraw his bid for post today

November 09, 1998|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON -- With the endorsements of top Republicans in his pocket, Rep. Robert L. Livingston of Louisiana all but declared himself speaker of the House yesterday, two days after the abrupt resignation of Speaker Newt Gingrich.

"I have over a hundred votes or so now, and I need about 112, and I'll have them probably within the next two days," said Livingston. "I will be the next speaker."

Earlier in the day, Rep. Christopher Cox, a conservative from California and the only other announced candidate for speaker, said he had gathered about 90 commitments and should not be counted out. But by yesterday evening, reports spread through the Capitol that Cox would withdraw from the race today in the interest of party unity.

"He concluded that Livingston was so far ahead that it would be hard to catch up, although Livingston didn't have it wrapped up," said one Republican close to Cox. He added that Livingston had "intimidated" a number of members into supporting him because if he lost the race for speaker, he would remain as chairman of the Appropriations Committee, a powerful panel that allocates federal spending.

The unofficial news of Cox's withdrawal prompted the only other potential candidate, Rep. James M. Talent of Missouri, to issue a statement last night saying that he had decided not to enter the race.

"It's in the bag for Livingston," said a top Republican aide, who predicted that Cox's formal withdrawal would have "a very soothing effect" on Republicans.

Conservatives unhappy with Livingston have been promoting Cox's candidacy, saying as late as yesterday that Livingston was not a true fiscal conservative, was too hot-headed and was too stuck in the old ways to bring change to the House. But a Republican aide said yesterday evening that the conservatives, known as CATS, an acronym for Conservative Action Team, are expected to drop their opposition.

"The CATS aren't purring but they're on board," he said.

Livingston also had the backing of several committee chairmen and Rep. Tom DeLay of Texas, the majority whip, who commands the party's vote-getting and vote-counting organization that is used to advance the leadership's goals.

Still brewing are contests for other leadership positions. The majority leader, Dick Armey of Texas, is being challenged by Steve Largent of Oklahoma. The conference chairman, John A. Boehner of Ohio, is being challenged by J. C. Watts of Oklahoma and George P. Radanovich of California. The whip, DeLay, is believed to be secure in his post.

The speakership, which is third in line of succession to the presidency after the vice presidency, is the most powerful and the most visible.

If Cox drops out, Livingston could claim credit for out-organizing and outgunning his opposition that, for three hours after he announced his candidacy on Friday, included Gingrich himself.

The race to replace Gingrich soared into overdrive yesterday, lighting up Capitol Hill offices that are usually dimmed and dull in the post-election season when Congress is out of session. Members scurried back over the weekend from their home districts for internal party brawls over leadership posts in the aftermath of the Republicans' loss of five House seats in last week's midterm elections.

The jousting spilled over onto the television talk shows yesterday. Several candidates for three of the party's four hierarchical jobs took their case to a national audience, even though the voting, scheduled for Nov. 18, will be conducted only among the incoming 223 Republican House members.

This use of national television for internal party positioning seemed in part a response to the overwhelming concern of Republicans that they learn how to better communicate their actions and goals to voters. They blamed Gingrich for a failure to articulate a clear message to voters this fall, although many also said that the Republicans had accomplished so little this year that there was nothing to communicate.

"What is at stake here is not just the future of the House of Representatives but the future of Congress and the country," Cox said yesterday on the CBS program "Face the Nation." Cox had announced his candidacy for speaker on "Larry King Live" Friday night.

Rep. Jennifer Dunn of Washington said in response to a question on the NBC News program "Meet the Press" that she was considering running for majority leader, a higher position than she had previously indicated.

The swamping of the airwaves is also an effort to give the party a quick face-lift now that Gingrich is gone. Democrats repeatedly exploited Gingrich's image, demonizing him as the embodiment of what they cast as an extremist Republican Party.

Pub Date: 11/09/98

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