Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander snagged the third position in GOP leadership in a closed secret ballot vote today in the Capitol. Alexander beat Sen. Richard Burr (N.C.) 31-16 to become the new chairman of the Senate Republican Conference. He will replace Sen. Jon Kyl (Ariz.), who is running uncontested for the number two leadership position of minority whip, left vacant by the resignation of Sen. Trent Lott (Miss.).
Alexander, a two-time Republican presidential candidate, publicly announced he would seek the position after Lott’s resignation. In a press release, he said he “telephoned John Kyl to tell him I will vote for him as Trent’s successor as Whip.”
Speaking to reporters on Thursday after the vote, Alexander said he felt good about the outcome because it “shows our conference is looking for a little bit of a new direction, a new face.”
He ran the quick campaign on principles of a bi-partisan agenda that might attract independent voters. Alexander said he would model his leadership after last year’s campaign by Sen. Bob Corker, who discussed issues that appeal to both Republicans and Independents.
Alexander, who was elected to the Senate in 2002 and previously served as US education secretary under George H.W. Bush, is considered a moderate Republican. He holds weekly Tuesday morning breakfasts for a bi-partisan table of Senators to discuss issues of the day without press or staff.
“This is one forum each week where we get to know one another better and create a better environment for solving problem,” said Alexander.
Alexander used this tactic to campaign for the leadership job. He said he visited with or personally telephoned all 49 Republican Senators in his bid for this position. He used this same method when campaigning against Lott last year for the Whip position.
“I was disappointed last year but Trent Lott is an institution of sorts in the US Senate,” Alexander said. “To come within one vote of him shortly after arriving here was disappointing but doing pretty well.”
As chairman of the Conference, Alexander will be the chief communications spokesman for Senate Republicans. According to reports from The Hill, Alexander raised more money through his political action committee for Republicans than any other Senator in his class which didn’t hurt his chances in the leadership race.
Alexander said he wants to create a more effective Republican Conference because 23 of the 49 members are up for re-election next year. He mentioned that Tennesseans “wish we had less partisan bickering and more working together across party lines to reach a result on big issues” as a trigger for stepping into the leadership role.
“I’m just one Senator and I can’t change the entire world but I worked hard to try to change the tone of the Senate,” he said. “I won’t just be a preacher on the street but [instead]…inside the church makin’ my argument.”
The leadership shift occurs in the midst of a wave of Republican retirements and resignations in Congress, the Senate and the Bush Administration. Republicans lost the House and Senate last year to a Democratic majority and have sought to redefine their party with renewed fiscal discipline, national security and traditional values.