State Journal-Register

December 15, 2001

LaHood vying for majority whip post 


WASHINGTON ó Rep. Ray LaHood has entered the race for the third-highest position in the U.S. House, promising to bring a more moderate tone to the Republican Party leadership.

LaHood, who represents part of Springfield and areas to the north, hopes to succeed Tom DeLay, R-Texas, as House majority whip. DeLay is running unopposed for majority leader, replacing retiring fellow Texan Dick Armey.

LaHood acknowledged he faces an uphill battle for the job of chief vote-counter. Rep. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., DeLayís deputy, already is seeking the post. House Republican Conference J.C. Watts, R-Okla., also is considering entering the race.

"I am the underdog," LaHood said Friday. "(Blunt)ís got the whole whip organization that heís worked with, and Iím sure many of those people will be supporting him."

DeLay and Blunt would continue the conservative control of the House. LaHood, who was encouraged to run by many moderate Republicans, said he could soften the image of the party.

"People want some ability to have choices in these races. It shouldnít be just one person," LaHood said. "I have over 20 yearsí experience, and I think I know how to work together. I can bring people together."

The whipís job is to round up votes for the leadership, a job thatís become more critical with the Republicanís narrow six-seat majority.

The leadership election wonít be held until after Novemberís congressional elections. Nevertheless, LaHood said heís been making phone calls to House members and will send a letter next week asking for their support.

LaHood found some encouragement from a conversation with House Speaker Dennis Hastert, a fellow Illinoisan who holds the top House post. LaHood said he told the speaker that he would bow out if his run causes Hastert problems. Although Hastert is staying neutral in the whip race, he didnít try to dissuade LaHood.

"What he told me was: ĎGo make the phone calls. Gauge if you think youíve got a shot at it and decide.í" said LaHood, who describes Hastert as a personal friend.

LaHoodís central Illinois district has a long history of producing national leaders. LaHood was an aide to former House Minority Leader Bob Michel, R-Peoria, before he was elected to replace Michel in the House in 1994. Everett McKinley Dirksen was Senate Republican leader from 1959-1969.