WASHINGTON -- If Rep. Bill McCollum is elected House Republican whip next month, his victory will owe something to the efforts of Doyle BarrieR, the chief lobbyist for the Conference of State Bank Supervisors.

The 35-year-old lobbyist has taken a leave of absence from the state bank supervisors' group to help the lawmaker, who first brought him to Washington more than a decade ago.

And as befits a man who spent the last four years battling uphill against interstate branching legislation, Mr. Bartlett is optimistic.

"I think it's virtually even now," he said last week of Rep. McCollum's race. If so, that would represent a surge in support for the seven-term lawmaker, who had been widely judged to be running behind.

Rep. McCollum, R-Fla., will be the second-ranking Republican on the House Banking Committee next year and could chair the panel's most important subcommittee -- financial institutions -- if be loses in the leadership race.

Mr. Bartlett, who served as Rep. McCollum's banking aide in the mid-1980s, said he is spending his time gathering intelligence and passing out the party line.

"I keep up with the latest rumors, and make sure our views get out," he said.

Mr. Bartlett said the majority whip -- charged with the task of counting votes and holding party members in line on key issues -- will be challenged as never before in the next Congress.

"He has to hold together the Republicans first of all," Mr. Bartlett said. "But they only have a 13-vote advantage, so he is going to be going for support from Democrats on a number of issues."

Rep. McCollum, he said, has a good track record of being able to speak to legislators on both sides of the aisle, including the irascible Fernand J. St Germain, chairman of the banking committee during the 1980s.

"I think St Gemain respected him," said Mr. Barlett. "St Germain was very smart, and I think he respected Bill's intellect."

h those days, the big banking issue was interstate banking. Florida had entered into a regional compact that permitted interstate acquisitions within a multistate area but barred entry by banks from other regions.

Rep. McCollum and other Florida legislators were pressing for legislation to uphold that limited view of interstate banking.

"It was a states, rights issue," Mr. Bartlett said. "Today, he's very supportive of interstate branching because of his experience with the regional compacts,"

Rep. McCollum's years on the banking committee gives the industry a stake in the outcome of the leadership race.

"Mr. McCollum is very knowledgeable about our industry," said Edward L. Yingling, chief lobbyist for the American Bankers Association. "It would be a real plus to have someone like that in the leadership ."

In seeking the whip job -- his party's third-ranking leadership post -- Rep. McCollum is taking on two of the GOP's most powerful House members: Rep. Tom DeLay of Texas and Rep. Robert Walker of Pennsylvania.

Rep. Walker, one of the original back-bench firebrands who challenged Democrats on the House floor during the 1980s, is the choice of the likely new speaker, Newt Gingrich of Georgia. Still, he is believed to be running a distant third.

Rep. DeLay is looked upon as the front-runner, but Mr. Bartlett argues that the Texan faces a problem of geography.

"Look at the leadership posts that are going to Texans," he said. Among them are Rep. Richard K. Armey, another banking committee member who is expected to become majority leader, and Rep. Bill Archer, who is in line to take over the Ways and Means' Committee.

Political parties like to spread the goodies around a bit, and that argues for someone else, Mr. Bartlett said.

Mr. Bartlett first began working for Rep. McCollum during the legislator's 1982 reelection campaign. The district had just been adjusted to reflect the 1980 census, and the Republican found himself running in the unfamiliar city of Orlando.

"He needed someone who knew Orlando, and I was born and raised there," said Mr. Bartlett. Mr. Bartlett signed onto the campaign and stayed with Rep. McCollum for the next two years, working in the legislator's district office.

In 1984, Mr. McCollum ran unopposed, and Mr. Bartlett decided it was time to get back to school. He enrolled at in an MBA program at the University of Florida, but didn't stay for long.

Back in Washington, Rep. McCollum's banking aide was leaving his office for a position at Chemical Bank, and Mr. Bartlett was pressed into service.

During the transition period, he met the departing aide and the two hit it off. "We didn't start dating then, but she showed me around town," he recalled.

The aide's name was Leslie Woolley, and two years ago the two were married. Pep. McCollum was best man.

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