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`NEWT! NEWT! NEWT!’ AS SPEAKER

SHARE `NEWT! NEWT! NEWT!’ AS SPEAKER

House Republicans voted by acclamation Wednesday to keep Newt Gingrich as speaker as the rank-and-file decided to stick with their leader despite his continuing investigation by the ethics committee.

The vote all but ensures that the 53-year-old Georgian will lead the House again in the new Congress following an initial two years in which he was at once the GOP's philosophical leader and chief tactician as well as lightning rod for Democratic attacks.The full House will formally vote on the speaker and other party posts when Congress convenes on Jan. 7. At that point, the only foreseeable hindrance to Gingrich's election would be if a

House ethics committee report about him, which is expected to be released by January, contained additional, damaging revelations.

Republicans shouted "aye" to Gingrich's renomination, and no dissent was heard. They chanted "Newt, Newt, Newt" as he began speaking.

In an acceptance speech, Gingrich emphasized cooperation with President Clinton, a far cry from the revolutionary rhetoric he and other Republicans used when they captured House control two years ago.

"We bear the unusual burden of reaching out to a Democratic president," Gingrich said. "If the last Congress was the confrontation Congress, this Congress will be the implementation Congress.

"We can do a lot of work together because we share the common direction" of balancing the budget, fighting drugs and reducing taxes, he said.

The day was bittersweet for Gingrich. His renomination came a few hours after his father, Robert Gingrich, died. "It's made more complex because this is also my mother's birthday," he told colleagues. "That makes it hard."

Following an election campaign in which Democrats used him as a synonym for extremism and picked up eight House seats, some Republicans expressed skepticism about keeping him in the No. 1 job.

But he retained a loyal following. He is widely credited with masterminding the GOP's 1994 capture of the House, and most Republicans say he did an effective job as speaker and in helping them retain their majority in this month's elections.

"In many ways, he does represent the one person who has the most appeal for moderates all the way to conservatives in our caucus," said moderate Rep. Mike Castle, R-Del.

Gingrich would be the first Republican speaker elected to two consecutive terms since the late 1920s when Ohio's Nicholas Longworth did it. Since then, the House has been mostly under Democratic rule.

House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, Majority Whip Tom DeLay, R-Texas, and conference chairman John Boehner, R-Ohio, were also expected to be re-elected to their positions without opposition Wednesday.

A few Republicans, including Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., have openly complained that ethics charges pending against Gingrich and his negative public perception make him an unwise choice for speaker.

Yet no Republican has emerged to publicly challenge any of the leaders, even though voters cut the GOP's 38-seat edge in the last Congress nearly in half.