House leadership New and old: Both political parties mix it ++ up, adding some diversity to lineup.

November 27, 1998

HOUSE DEMOCRATS and Republicans have added promising young lawmakers to their party leadership in the 106th Congress.

The Democrats named Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island, son of Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy, as congressional campaign chairman.

The GOP chose as conference chairman J. C. Watts, of Oklahoma, the only black Republican in Congress.

Mr. Kennedy brings an attractiveness and name that will greatly help fund raising as the party tries to regain Congress and keep the White House in 2000. Otherwise, the elected Democratic leadership was all-white, all-male, until Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt added some diversity with additional appointments a black and a woman.

While the Watts elevation to No. 4 in rank is good for the GOP, it was not as daring a move as it appears.

He and the new leadership are as conservative as those they replaced, along with Dick Armey of Texas, who escaped the coup and was re-elected as majority leader.

But, if the party expects that putting Mr. Watts on the congressional team will automatically transform skeptical African-Americans voters into delighted Republicans, it may be in for more disappointment. It takes more than one new face to convert years of neglect, and sometimes hostility, into support.

While blacks voted against the GOP in staggering numbers in some races Nov. 3, the GOP's problems did not end there: The party lost favor with women, other minorities and also white men for the first time in years.

That was the reason for the shakeup that began with the resignation of former Speaker Newt Gingrich. The party's problems, though, are not solved.

The leadership now has to find ways to contain its rightist fringe, the ultra-conservatives referred to by Mr. Gingrich as "cannibals."

The new speaker, Bob Livingston of Louisiana, was a bit kinder when he declared that leading the Republicans was like "herding cats." Too bad they cannot take lessons from the party's governors, some of whom found ways to appeal to nonwhites and other groups, to effect the "big tent" inclusion that many national Republicans reserve for lip sevice. For that, the governors were treated like stars at their convention in New Orleans last week -- none more so than the Bush brothers, Jeb of Florida and George W. of Texas, already touted as presidential material.

"Cannibals" or "cats" and how well the speaker tames them will determine how the party plans to run the 106th Congress and present itself to the electorate n 2000.

Pub Date: 11/27/98

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