Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) won a hotly contested leadership race for Republican Conference chairman today, defeating Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.).
In choosing a folksy moderate best known lately for trying to broker bipartisan compromises on the war in Iraq, Senate Republicans have at least for now embraced some middle ground in their leadership hierarchy.
Alexander's ascension to the No. 3 spot in Republican leadership may come as welcome news to his friends on the Democratic side of the aisle. But he was not necessarily the choice of party conservatives who want to more firmly embrace a more ideological, fiscally conservative future for the Senate Republican conference.
Alexander’s victory completes a reshuffling in the Republican leadership brought about by the sudden retirement of Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.). Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), who was unopposed, was officially appointed as minority whip to take over from Lott, while Alexander moved up to Conference chairman to replace Kyl.
Alexander was defeated by Lott in the race for minority whip at the start of this Congress, but he used the loss to gain chits for today’s election.
Alexander, who’ll take over as chief communications strategist and spokesman for Senate Republicans, has pledged to broaden the party’s appeal to independent voters.
He went into today’s election with what his camp described as a solid lead over Burr, who got most of his support from younger conservative Republican senators.
The 67-year-old Alexander is a former Secretary of Education, governor and Republican presidential candidate, perhaps best remembered for his brief White House run in his red checkered flannel shirt.
He was elected to the Senate in 2002, defeated former Democratic Rep. Bob Clement to win the seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.), who is now running for president.