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MCKEON DUMPS BID FOR HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER.

Byline: Michael Coit Daily News Staff Writer

U.S. Rep. Howard P. ``Buck'' McKeon decided on Tuesday not to enter the race for House majority leader, but the Santa Clarita congressman remains on the ascent as Republicans hold on to a slim majority in the House.

McKeon has helped push Rep. Bob Livingston's rise in the Republican ranks, and when the Louisiana lawmaker became the front-runner for House speaker last week, McKeon considered running for the No. 2 post.

McKeon had been expected to join a short list of Republicans competing against Rep. Steve Largent of Oklahoma in his bid to unseat Majority Leader Dick Armey of Texas.

But Tuesday, McKeon threw his support back to Armey, saying he polled fellow party members and concluded that Armey could hold off the challenge.

``The important thing is I have very good access to the speaker for things that I might need or being able to help when he needs help,'' McKeon said of his rapport with Livingston.

House Republicans are expected to pick Livingston to replace Newt Gingrich as their new speaker Nov. 18. Gingrich said last week he is stepping down as speaker and will leave Congress.

McKeon said Livingston asked him Tuesday to organize a celebration to commemorate the event, reprising a prayer service and reception he led when the Republicans became the majority in congress under Gingrich in 1994.

``I've got plenty to do,'' McKeon said.

McKeon joined in helping lead Livingston's campaign for speaker, which began nearly 10 months ago. That effort originally was aimed at replacing Gingrich next year, when the Georgian was expected to step down and begin a run for president in 2000.

``He came out to California in July and went to about 10 (congressional) districts and I was a strong supporter of that effort,'' McKeon recalled.

``We thought that Newt would step down sometime next year and run for president.

``With this election and then Newt subsequently resigning, it just sped everything up. But we had already done all of the groundwork and we had most of the votes lined up.''

McKeon was re-elected Nov. 3 to a fourth term representing the 25th Congressional District, which includes parts of the San Fernando, Santa Clarita and Antelope valleys.

McKeon said he felt he would be a better majority leader for the party than either Largent, the conservative former football star, or Jennifer Dunn, R-Wash., who is more moderate.

One of McKeon's strengths is bringing different factions within the party together, as well as working with Democrats. He decided to support the experienced Armey rather than launch a potentially divisive campaign for majority leader.

``In the interest of bringing more harmony than disruption, I decided to stick with Dick,'' McKeon said.

McKeon, 60, rose from school board trustee and mayor of Santa Clarita to president of his freshman Republican congressional class in 1992. Gingrich handpicked him to serve on the House transition team for the GOP's takeover of Congress two years later.

For the past four years McKeon has chaired the House subcommittee on postsecondary education. He also is a member of the national security committee and is angling for a seat on the powerful appropriations committee.

CAPTION(S):

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PHOTO Howard P. ``Buck'' McKeon

Star rising
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Nov 11, 1998
Words:543
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