McConnell was embarrassed last year when his choice, Alexander, was defeated by one vote for Republican whip by Sen. Trent Lott. When Lott last month announced his resignation from the Senate, Sen. Jon Kyl became the unopposed candidate for whip and left open his previous position as Conference chairman. Alexander beat conservative-backed Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina by two-to-one in the closed-door vote of Republican senators.
Burr's chance depended on a three-way contest among him, Alexander and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, but Hutchison dropped out. She contemplates running for governor of Texas in 2010, and colleagues believe she did not want to risk losing a party leadership race.
When Democratic National Chairman Howard Dean addressed the winter dinner of the Washington Gridiron Club, he did not declare the support for U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan that is expected from politicians speaking to the journalists' organization.
Satirical Gridiron speeches often conclude with patriotic rhetoric. Republican National Chairman Mike Duncan, Dean's counterpart addressing last Saturday night's dinner, wound up his speech by commending troops in the field.
In contrast to anti-Vietnam War politicians a generation ago, most Democratic critics of President Bush's Iraq war policy go out of their way to praise the soldiers while condemning the policymakers. Dean did not follow that line in his Gridiron speech.