WASHINGTON — Rep. Les Aspin (D-Wis.) pulled off a political miracle today, winning back the chairmanship of the House Armed Services Committee that House Democrats took away from him just two weeks ago.
Aspin beat conservative Rep. Marvin Leath (D-Tex.) by a vote of 133 to 116, after three rounds of balloting that pared down a field that began with four candidates. The others, eliminated in the first two rounds, were liberal Rep. Nicholas Mavroules (D-Mass.) and 20-term veteran Rep. Charles E. Bennett (D-Fla.).
Under the rules, the low man is bumped out in each round and the winner is the first with a majority. In the first round, the results were: Aspin 96, Leath, 69, Bennett 44, and Mavroules 35. In the second, the results were: Aspin, 108, Leath 91, and Bennett 47.
Rep. Jim Moody (D-Wis.), an Aspin supporter, said the first-round results showed House Democrats decided that "taking someone to the woodshed is one thing but exchanging him for another person is another."
And Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) said Leath suffered in the first round because his voting record was far to the right of most House Democrats.
Aspin was ousted by his Democratic colleagues from the influential position after just one term in a Jan. 7 no-confidence vote, 130 to 124, that set the stage for today's showdown.
A heavy snowstorm delayed the start of the caucus for more than two hours. Several Democrats were absent because of the storm or illness.
The Armed Services post is important because in addition to weighing in on the Pentagon budget, it has a strong voice on any "pork barrel" programs packed into it. The chairmanship also can be used to influence the direction of military policy and to raise a platform for party positions on defense issues.
Aspin, first elected in 1970, bucked the system two years ago in ousting the aged, veteran Rep. Melvin Price (D-Ill.) as Armed Services chairman. Aspin beat an unprepared Bennett 125 to 103, to hurdle six more senior members for the job.
But the new chairman's support for the MX missile and a vote-switch to back President Reagan on U.S. aid to the contra rebels in Nicaragua cost him support.
Aspin has since decided to oppose both more MX missiles and more contra aid, but an aide said the former Pentagon budget analyst was being pressed by some members to agree to various "pork barrel" projects in exchange for support.