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Gingrich Tames Rhetoric, Savors 'Speaker' : Georgia: It is expected that his triumph will turn Washington upside down, portending the rise of a new kind of ideological politics.

November 09, 1994|THOMAS B. ROSENSTIEL and EDITH STANLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

MARIETTA, Ga. — However the night ended, he knew he would be the victor. He could taste it. He had planned it, for 20 years, like plotting lessons for one of the college classes he once taught.

"Speaker! Speaker! Speaker!" they chanted when he came to drink in their cheers of triumph.

Newt Gingrich, principal architect of attack politics, commander in chief of a loyal army of "new Republicans" created largely in his image, a man who has called Democrats "the enemy of normal Americans" and talks openly about remaking the nation into a conservative utopia by late Tuesday was virtually assured of becoming Speaker of the House.

"This is the beginning of the revolution!" Georgia radio talk-show host Sean Hannity declared.

"There he is, there he is," a woman screamed as Gingrich, with his Phil Donahue haircut and his doughboy frame, entered the Cobb Galleria Centre ballroom, festooned in "Newt Blue," the special color ordered by the man who is making a science of control.

The Republican electoral sweep that swept his party toward a majority in the House is likely to make Gingrich the first GOP Speaker of the House since 1954. And he will be second in line of succession to the White House after Vice President Al Gore.

In victory he was magnanimous.

"This campaign is about the American people," he said. "Not a Republican victory. Not a Democratic victory. It is the American people making a statement."

"I have to change my behavior," he told a reporter later. "When you are Speaker you get to set the agenda, you get to decide what hearings are held, you get to decide what legislation is up. I think you don't have to be nearly as combative."

But make no mistake Gingrich and the Republican's triumph will turn Washington upside down, marking the rise of a new kind of ideological politics. And it is all part of a remarkable journey for a man who, during 16 years of service in the House has never authored a piece of legislation that became law.

Five days ago, however, it seemed that the biggest potential obstacle to Gingrich's ascension was annoyingly provincial. His own reelection race had become so close that Gingrich had to cancel plans to campaign for Republicans around the country so he could court voters in his suburban Atlanta district.

But as the polls closed in Georgia, returns showed that he had a comfortable lead over Democratic challenger Ben Jones, a former congressman who portrayed the character Cooter on the TV program "Dukes of Hazard."

On Sunday, Gingrich's penchant for seeing virtually everything through the prism of his self-declared ideological war got him into trouble again.

He suggested that the killing of two children in South Carolina by their mother was somehow the result of Democratic policies. "How a mother can kill her two children, 14 months and 3 years, in hopes that her boyfriend would like her, is just a sign of how sick the system is and I think people want to change," he declared. "The only way you can change is to vote Republican. That's the message for the last three days."

Rather than making his mark by passing legislation, providing constituent services or mastering the art of compromise and consensus building, Gingrich has risen to the top of his party by redefining the role of congressman. He tried to tear down the institution he served to remake it.

Not long after his arrival in Washington, his antics inspired the late House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. to describe Gingrich's flagrant break with House traditions as the "worst thing I have seen in 32 years." As a young House back-bencher, he openly attacked fellow congressmen personally, kept files on colleagues and waged campaigns designed to damage O'Neill's successor, Speaker Jim Wright (D-Tex.), among others.

"Newt is a revolutionary," said pollster Frank Luntz, who works closely with the Georgia congressman. "And he is unique in that he has really thought through how to make that revolution."

Gingrich has vowed that if Republicans gain control of the House and elect him Speaker, he will schedule hearings early next year on his "first-wave reforms." That agenda includes passage of a balanced budget amendment, congressional term limits, litigation reform and welfare reform. Later, he would push a set of "second-wave" reforms, including legalizing school prayer.

"There is an obligation--it's the Speaker of the House, not the speaker of the party," Gingrich said, "and I think I will have an obligation to reach out to the President and to reach out to the Democrats."

But many Democrats and a few surviving GOP moderates wonder if he sincerely wants to accomplish anything while Clinton remains in the White House.

The adopted son of a military officer, Gingrich was raised in Europe and went to military high school in Germany. He studied European history at Emory University and earned a doctorate in European history from Tulane.

For some, this background provides important clues to the potential future direction of Congress.

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