WASHINGTON — YOU won't see any lawn signs on Capitol Hill. No attack ads. No starchy debates. But intense election campaigns are under way here for leadership posts in the new Congress. The voting this week will critically shape the next two years - especially for Republicans.
The leadership races pit representative against representative, senator against senator. Wielding carrots and sticks, would-be leaders like Sen. Trent Lott (R) of Mississippi and Sen. Alan Simpson (R) of Wyoming are working their colleagues, collecting on past political favors. Staffs are working Letterman-late hours.
Today the buttonholing in hallways and hearing rooms intensifies as members begin electing Senate and House leaders, whips, and caucus officers for the 104th Congress. While the topic of the hour in this lame-duck session is a global trade pact, the jockeying for position is the main political dynamic.
``If the [ideological] contrasts between candidates is sufficiently clear,'' says Leroy Rieselbach, a Congress expert at Indiana University, ``the outcome will say something about where the party is heading.''
The House Democratic Caucus votes Nov 30. Senate Republicans and Democrats choose their leaderships on Dec. 2. The House Republican Conference elects its leaders on Dec. 5.
Senate whip race
Two races in the Senate, in particular, are capturing attention. The more important contest is for majority whip. With Bob Dole, the majority leader-in-waiting from Kansas, expected to make a bid for the presidency in 1996, the No. 2 slot will be under increased demands.
Senator Dole backs his longtime sidekick, Senator Simpson. Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas, who also plans to run for the presidency, backs Senator Lott, a firebrand conservative. Simpson says categorically that with him as whip, Dole won't have to worry about his job or shifting agendas while he stumps in Iowa and New Hampshire.
That would not be true if Lott becomes whip. An ally of House Speaker-to-be Newt Gingrich, Lott is a conservative fighter who could possibly fiddle with the agenda in Dole's absence.
``Being whip is about unity,'' Simpson told the Monitor. ``We don't have a majority of 60. We have a fragile 53. If we press our agenda - the balanced-budget amendment, line-item veto, welfare reform, crime legislation that works, environmental laws that work - we have a wonderful opportunity to take over the presidency in 1996.''
Believing he has enough votes to win the whip slot, he adds, ``These are wonderful days. It's a joy.''
Across the aisle in the Senate, Christopher Dodd (D) of Connecticut and Tom Daschle (D) of South Dakota are vying to become minority leader. Both are moderate liberals concerned about declining middle-class economic and social standards. Since the two share almost no ideological differences, this is a race of style, generation, and geography.
Senator Daschle is a measured, second-term lawmaker who believes his status as a midwesterner connects him better with middle America. Senator Dodd is a spirited lawmaker who came in with the freshman class of 1980 and therefore has experience being in the minority.
Daschle has been fighting for the leadership since March. Critics say he is too mild-mannered to lead a Democratic revival. He disagrees.
``It is not who can speak loudest,'' he says, ``but who can unify the party. The American people do not feel connected to the Democratic Party.... The most important thing is to create an economic agenda to reestablish that connection.''
Dodd entered the race when Sen. Jim Sasser (D) of Tennessee, who had been seeking the position, lost his seat. ``Dodd looked at the election, not as a speed bump, but a major happening,'' says Marvin Fast, one of his aides. ``People want to know if you can address their concerns.''
And in the House...
In the House, with Mr. Gingrich set to become Speaker and Dick Armey (R) of Texas the majority leader, the big GOP contest is among three conservatives running for whip. Rep. Bill McCollum (R) of Florida, the vice chairman of the caucus, sees the whip slot as so important that he hired a public-relations firm to spread his message among House Republicans.
``I believe I can pull the Republican team and wagon,'' he says. ``Republicans in the House have to live up to the `Contract With America,' '' the conservative 10-point agenda they plan to act on in the first 100 days of the next Congress. ``I don't intend to compromise on the major thrust of the contract.''
One of Mr. McCollum's rivals, Rep. Robert Walker (R) of Pennsylvania, has the coveted Gingrich endorsement. ``A Speaker probably ought to have the whip he wants,'' Mr. Walker says. As deputy minority whip of the outgoing Congress, ``I do have an established floor presence.''
The third whip candidate, Rep. Tom DeLay, has a strike against him. As a Texan, he hails from Armey's state, which the caucus may find undesirable.
Across the aisle, the House Democratic Caucus was poised to elect a liberal leadership on Nov. 30, including Richard Gephardt of Missouri as minority leader, David Bonior of Michigan as whip, and Vic Fazio of California as caucus chairman.
This lineup would ensure that the House will have a feisty opposition to Gingrich and Mr. Armey. But such a leadership would come as a repudiation of conservative Democrats, especially those in the South.