Republicans take revenge on leaders

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THREE SENIOR positions in the Republican Party changed hands yesterday as Representatives took their leaders to task for recent election losses.

Bob Livingston, of Louisiana, was formally endorsed as the next Speaker of the House, after Newt Gingrich's decision to quit the post. And J C Watts defeated the fourth ranking Republican, John Boehner, to become chairman of the party conference and the first black member of the Republican leadership.

A Gingrich ally, John Linder, who chaired the National Congressional Committee - aschief fund-raiser and campaign strategist - was also replaced by the moderate Tom Davis, of Virginia.

However, despite forecasts to the contrary, the House majority leader, Dick Armey, survived the challenge of Jennifer Dunn, who had been tipped to become the first woman in the party leadership.

Mr Armey and Mr Gingrich were blamed for the party's poor showing in this month's mid-term Congressional elections. Although the party retained its majority in both Houses of Congress, it lost five House seats, and saw its majority reduced to 12.

Accepting his endorsement, Mr Livingston, 55, said he would be "Speaker of the whole House" and pledged closer co-operation with "like-minded Democrats". He rebuffed predictions that the House would fall to the Democrats in 2000."There are some who insist the Republican era is over. But that's like saying the American dream is over. It isn't true - and they know it," he said.

Mr Livingston had precipitated Mr Gingrich's departure by announcing 10 days ago that he would oppose him. A 21-year veteran of the House, he chaired the appropriations committee. His candidacy was unopposed and his formal election as Speaker will take place when the House reconvenes in January.

The House Speaker ranks third in the US power structure, taking over should both the President and Vice-President be removed from office or incapacitated.

Mr Gingrich made a brief appearance to give Mr Livingston his blessing. "Your success as Speaker will in large measure be whether people in this room stand together and stand united," he told him.

Leading Republicans have expressed fears that the combination of their election losses and Mr Gingrich's departure could splinter the party, with the Christian fundamentalists and the "compassionate conservatives" in the ranks of state governors like George W Bush, finding little common ground.

J C Watts' victory could exacerbate the problem. The only black Republican in Congress, he is an ideological conservative whose views may not chime with Mr Livingston's. The fact that the Republicans need to attract black voters may have weighed in his favour.