Primaries of a different sort


New Hampshire demands that its presidential primary in February be the first in the nation. But the real first-in-the-nation primary is going on now in the U.S. Senate. Bob Dole of Kansas and Phil Gramm of Texas are running against each other in that forum as frantically as they will later (if both survive 1995) in the Republican primaries.

The fight over the Henry Foster nomination was a good example of Senators Dole and Gramm trying to one up the other. A better one occurred in May. May 23, 24 and 25 there were an incredible 56 roll call votes on the Fiscal 1996 Budget Resolution. Everyone watched to see how Majority Leader Dole and Senator Gramm handled their dispute over what was seen by many Republicans as a key test of loyalty to the cause of shrinking government and cutting taxes. The two senators voted alike on 53 of the 56 votes, including on the litmus-test amendment offered by Senator Gramm -- to cut taxes by the same amount as House Republicans did. The amendment lost, 31-69.

Senator Gramm argues that he, not Senator Dole, led the fight for the cut, and that he got most Republicans to go along (31-23). He criticizes Senator Dole for "cutting deals with the Democrats." But Senator Dole may have an answer for that: Cutting a deal with Republicans who voted against the Gramm amendment, including Budget Committee Chairman Pete Domenici, in order to get some tax reduction. That's if he can.

"Deals" are the Washington way of life, especially in the Senate, but also in the House, as even Speaker Newt Gingrich admits. Those who know Senator Dole's abilities along these lines are lining up behind him. Eighteen Republican senators have already endorsed his presidential candidacy, and more are expected to join.

Meanwhile, another "primary" is shaping up before New Hampshire. This may be more of a threat to Mr. Dole than the one in the Senate. He's not in it, and either of the two potential presidential candidates who are in it may be a more formidable opponent than Senator Gramm, whose own presidential campaign has not shown signs of real life yet. That primary is known as the National Government Celebrity Book Tour.

Colin Powell and Newt Gingrich are the candidates here, running border-to-border and coast-to-coast, in the late summer and fall. Neither is an announced candidate for president, but neither has flatly ruled out such a candidacy. Their book tours will allow them to test the waters.

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