Senate Republicans chose a centrist who has sometimes differed publicly with President Reagan as their new majority leader, the official who will be most responsible for guiding the presidential program through Congress.
Sen. Robert Dole of Kansas, a skillful legislator and one of his party's most visible national leaders, succeeds Sen. Howard H. Baker Jr. (R) of Tennessee, who is retiring from the Senate.
The new leader, elected by secret ballot by the 53 GOP senators Wednesday, inherits an upper chamber that has grown increasingly unruly during the tenure of the genial Senator Baker. The election of the witty but often sharp-tongued Senator Dole could be evidence that the Republicans are seeking more discipline for the Senate.
Although the heated, five-man race for the majority leader spot was conducted largely by private calls and visits, one issue has come to the fore. Senators say they are weary of procedural loopholes that permit lone dissenters to tie up the Senate in knots.
Sen. Dan Quayle (R) of Indiana, who has headed a task force on reform of Senate procedures, said Dole had made no commitment to specific changes. But Senator Quayle credited the Kansan for having the ability to make the Senate machinery work.
''If Bob Dole can get a consensus among Republicans on what is doable,'' Quayle said, then he would be most likely to achieve that goal. ''He has been a master at legislative maneuverings on the floor.''
The new leader, who is in his third Senate term, has been a highly successful negotiator on tough legislation, often pulling out victories from apparently hopeless deadlocks. As chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, he persuaded the most powerful tax opponent, President Reagan, and an alliance of Republicans and Democrats to pass one of the biggest tax hikes in history. Moreover, it happened during 1982, a congressional election year.