Georgia lost considerable clout when its highly respected senior senator, Democrat Sam Nunn, decided not to seek re-election to a fourth term. But quickly moving to fill the void is the state's new senior senator, Paul Coverdell.
His Republican colleagues this week elected Coverdell to a key leadership post - conference secretary. It's one of only five party leadership posts in the Senate and will be especially potent since the GOP controls Congress.
Nunn helped his state and nation by providing strong leadership in defense, foreign policy and agriculture. Coverdell's new position strengthens his hand in each of these areas. "This post provides our state with even greater input into decisions guiding these crucial issues," says the new conference secretary.
Coverdell's election marks the first time a Georgia senator has officially held a party leadership post. His rise up the ladder is especially impressive because - despite his new senior senator status - he is still in his freshman term.
His ascent within the Senate and the Republican Party is due in part to the rapid turnover of recent elections. In the new Senate, for example, 27 of 55 Republicans and 13 of 45 Democrats were elected the same year Coverdell was (1992), or later.
But there's also another reason for his rise, explains Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss.: "Paul Coverdell's tireless work on behalf of the people of Georgia has earned him the respect of his Senate colleagues."
Coverdell's principal task will be to develop a unified message within the GOP conference and then communicate it to the country. The message Coverdell wants to send is not about bipartisan cooperation that House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., and President Clinton are preaching.
For Coverdell, the message voters sent Nov. 5 was an endorsement of the agenda of smaller government and less taxes that swept the GOP into power in the House in 1994 for the first time in 40 years.
"The election was a ratification of those ideas," he says. "Now it's clear that the country is more comfortable absent confrontation... . But I think the principal responsibility of Congress is to move toward these changes America has asked for."
It sounds like the senior senator's off to a good start.