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Fighting for No. 2 slot

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And who's to be No. 2? When Republicans were voted out of the majority Nov. 4, Senate observers assumed the position of ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee would go to former chairman Richard G. Lugar of Indiana.

But an unexpected challenge last week from the Senate's leading conservative, Jesse Helms of North Carolina, has thrown the issue in doubt.

At stake is the major responsibility for setting the Republican foreign policy agenda and for hiring the minority staff. Also at stake, say Helms critics, is whether the Republicans can forge working relations with committee Democrats to preserve such controversial programs as aid to the Nicaraguan contras.

Senator Helms is known for his extreme political views and confrontational style - traits that have many Republicans worried. Many White House officials are said to favor Lugar, since Helms has been a harsh foreign policy critic.

``There's no question that if Helms were elected it would strengthen the position of the Democrats,'' says one committee aide who notes that divided ranks in the minority would make it harder for Republicans to oppose unpopular Democratic policies.

Republican members of the committee are expected to choose between Lugar and Helms on Thursday, subject to the approval of all 45 Senate Republicans.

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