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'Freshmen' in name only

THE BALTIMORE SUN

WASHINGTON -- The new crop of lawmakers elected to serve in the next Congress features a handful of old faces and prominent party loyalists whose names already are familiar in Washington and around the nation.

The Senate's new class in particular includes a few members that colleagues may have a hard time calling "freshmen."

They include two one-time aspirants for the Republican presidential nomination: former Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander and North Carolina's Elizabeth Dole, who has held two Cabinet posts, headed the American Red Cross and is married to Bob Dole, the GOP's presidential standard-bearer in 1996.

Americans are on a first-name basis with those two: Lamar and Liddy.

"I intend to be a senator for all of North Carolina," Dole exulted last night in a victory speech.

Joining them in the freshman class is 78-year-old Frank R. Lautenberg, a New Jersey Democrat who served 18 years in the chamber before calling it quits two years ago.

Lautenberg said last night that his victory was "quite a surprise," but his name recognition and experience in the Senate helped him catapult ahead of his novice GOP rival in just one month after replacing embattled Sen. Robert G. Torricelli on the ballot.

The best-known candidate in this year's contests, former Vice President Walter F. Mondale, remained locked last night in a tight Minnesota Senate race against Republican Norm Coleman. If Mondale succeeds, the liberal icon known as "Fritz" would round out the group of political old hands poised to serve in the 108th Congress.

In addition to the household names on their way to Capitol Hill, the next Congress will be notable for a handful of minor celebrities.

The House's Florida delegation now includes a leading player in the national drama over the contested 2000 presidential election in Florida.

Former Republican Secretary of State Katherine Harris, who certified President Bush's victory by 537 votes after a 36-day recount, will be representing Sarasota.

Another familiar face -- at least in Washington -- will be Rep.-elect Rahm Emmanuel, an Illinois Democrat who served as former President Bill Clinton's finance director during his 1992 campaign and went on to be his political director and senior adviser in the White House.

Still, it will be the luminaries who have been on the political scene for decades who will garner the most attention. In many cases, they have already staked out positions on key issues and forged relationships with powerful allies.

"You're really looking at elder statesmen here. It's not just age, it's this kind of long-term familiarity we have with these people," said Burdett Loomis, a political scientist who wrote Esteemed Colleagues: Civility and Deliberation in the U.S. Senate.

"Here are people who probably, given their age and stature, aren't going to want to sit back and play a secondary role for a long time and learn the ropes," Loomis said.

But in a chamber where seniority means power, freshmen still could be starting from scratch.

Lautenberg may technically be the junior senator from New Jersey, even though he is more than two decades older than the state's other senator, Democrat Jon Corzine.

But Senate Democrats may choose to restore his seniority and allow him to keep the rank and committee status he held when he left Congress.

That could put Lautenberg in line to be the highest-ranking Democrat on the Budget Committee, a slot he enjoyed before his early retirement. Democrats have not decided yet whether he will be allowed to leap-frog over colleagues to such a plum post.

The same may be true of Mondale if he prevails; he could be in line to sit at the helm of one of several committees.

For Alexander and Dole, there is no question they will start at the bottom of the Senate's totem pole.

Democratic Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, who had lived in the White House eight years before taking her place in 2001 as the junior senator from New York, has done just that in her first two years in Congress, keeping a low profile and volunteering often for a Senate freshman's version of dirty work: presiding over the chamber for hours on end.

But like Clinton, Alexander's and Dole's years of experience and powerful connections are expected to enhance their influence.

Congress also is losing some of its best-known figures with the retirements of several prominent Republicans known as conservative lions on Capitol Hill. They include Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, who turns 100 next month and has served a total of 48 years in the Senate; Jesse Helms of North Carolina, 81, who has served for three decades; and Phil Gramm of Texas, 60, departing after 21 years, mostly in the Senate.

In the House, Majority Leader Dick Armey, 62, a Texas Republican who has been a prominent spokesman for the conservative wing of the GOP, is retiring after 18 years.

The new class of the 108th Congress also is notable for a few family connections that bind newcomers to more senior Washington political figures.

Republican John E. Sununu has been in the House since 1997, but he returns as the newly elected senator from New Hampshire. His father was the state's governor and White House chief of staff. for the first President George Bush.

Arkansas Attorney General Mark Pryor, a Democrat, won the Senate seat once held by his father, David Pryor, who also served as governor and U.S. representative.

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